“The most effective amulet against the evil eye has always been, according to tradition, an image of the eye itself,” notes cultural anthropologist Migene González-Wippler in The Complete Book of Amulets & Talismans. She cites the Eye of Horus, also known as the Wadjet, as an early Egyptian example. This was a protective healing symbol employed in many contexts, including on incision sites after embalming the deceased, on the sides of coffins and boats, and as an amulet worn by both the dead and living.
Like other ritual objects of ancient Egypt, the Eye of Horus was regularly fashioned in a turquoise shade of faience, a type of Egyptian ceramic that was glazed in vibrant hues. The color represented the regenerative, undying power of the sun, and scholars think it may have been used to mimic coveted, semi-precious stones of the same hue, such as turquoise. While there is little evidence to prove that the Eye of Horus morphed into the modern anti-evil eye amulet, they’re connected by their use of a single eye and cerulean color.
The anti-evil eye talisman that we’re familiar with today is known as a nazar in Turkey (Arabic for “eye” or “sight”), or a mati (meaning “eye”) in Greece. Relatively minimalist compared to historic eye-shaped amulets, it takes the form of a glass bead featuring four concentric circles: a black pupil, pale blue iris, white sclera, and deep blue outer layer.
Previous iterations of the amulet were made of dyed clay or ceramic, but the advent of glassmaking in Mesopotamia and Egypt—which may have spread to Anatolia (a region in modern-day Turkey) through trade—resulted in local artisans taking up the practice of hand-crafting the beads in kilns. To this day, artisans make nazar in İzmir, Turkey, where the art has been passed down through generations.