I have a thing for evil eyes – the little talismans intended to ward off a malevolent stare – and nowhere have I found them to be more abundant, or more beautiful, than in Greece. On a recent trip to the hippy-chic island of Hydra, just south of Athens, I struck literal gold with the discovery of Elena Votsi, a jeweller whose work is inspired by the sun and the surrounding Aegean Sea of her birthplace and who has worked on pieces in collaboration with Ralph Lauren.
Set in a whitewashed historic Hydriot building on the island’s main harbour, the artist’s eponymous shop is a treasure trove of modern Greek finds. Simple, sleek display cases highlight both her bohemian designs, all handmade in Greece – think colourful leather lariats with silver fish pendants (€45-€65) and casual clutches (€140) emblazoned with Greek flags – as well as her more geometric fine jewellery pieces.
I was instantly won over by Votsi’s white ceramic mugs (€40-€90) with simple red and blue graphics of donkeys, fish and nautical flags – all symbols of island life – as well as by her cushions and assorted textiles (from €55) bearing contemporary versions of the traditional evil eye. If I had been travelling with more than a carry-on bag, I would have done some serious damage in this charming boutique, but as I refuse to check in luggage, my buying opportunities were limited to smaller, portable mementos.
I had a lot of fun trying on a selection of jewellery, particularly brilliant red and sea-green ceramic evil-eye pendants (€650-€1,200) set in 14 and 18ct gold, eventually settling on a one-of-a-kind white marble disc (€1,100) with a miniscule evil eye engraved in gold at the centre. On the other side, the piece is inscribed with the uplifting Greek words for “light” and “life”. Sweet Christos Daskarakis, the store manager, tried to talk me out of buying the matching chain – “Surely you have one at home?” he reasoned – but the weight of Votsi’s links struck me as perfect for the charm, so I went for the whole package.
For those in search of precious items that will translate well from beach life to the city, the store offers many of the exquisite pieces that Votsi – a Royal College of Art alum – is so well known for. I was particularly taken with one-of-a-kind stone “heart” pendants (from €7,000) accented with tiny gemstones; a diamond Eros ring (€11,000) set in 18ct yellow gold with white diamonds; and a magnificent gold charm necklace (€28,000) embellished with shells and sharks’ teeth.
Of all the evil-eye trinkets I amassed on this trip – Christmas tree ornaments, bracelets, a cerulean paperweight – my statement-making necklace is by far the most meaningful. I’ve worn it virtually every day since I returned home – with casual T-shirts or for a night out – and it reminds me of a spectacular trip and a truly unique island vibe.