Amulets are typically worn as pendants that hang around the neck to bring good luck to the wearer and ward off evil or physical harm. Chinese and Thai amulets are made of everything from bronze and brass to bone and ivory. Japanese amulets called omamori are more like pouches, with intricate embroidery on the outside and religious writings within. Indian artisans treated their amulets like pieces of fine jewelry, favoring gold inlaid with rubies, diamonds, and emeralds. Regardless of their origins, amulets share numerous common shapes—most prominently, the Buddha—and routinely depict animals such as cats, horses, and elephants.

Thai amulets of the Buddha are still produced by monks who use age-old recipes thought to imbue the objects they make with magical, talismanic powers. Even a contemporary amulet made of molded plastic can protect the wearer, as long as the monk who produced it included, for example, ashes from burned sacred texts in his molten material.

The most jewelry-like amulets are those from India, whose rich resources of precious stones were often lavished on these pieces. One popular technique among Indian goldsmiths was kundan, in which sections of gold were bonded together, without the use of heat, by pressure alone. In some of these pieces, gold served almost as a latticework for the gems, so that an amulet’s color was achieved by raw materials alone. In others, the gold was unadorned by gemstones, its surface hammered and chased instead.

Unlike the deity shapes favored by their contemporaries in China and Thailand, Indian artisans also chose forms that served their aesthetic visions. Thus, Indian amulets took on the shapes of common items such as barrels and eggs.

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