Step into a Bikram yoga class or vegan cafe and chances are you’ll see any number of people wearing strings of beads coiled around their wrists or necks.
Some version of these beads — called mala, mantra or prayer beads — are used in a multitude of religions, including Buddhism and Hinduism, to help focus the mind while meditating. For many wearers, they hold spiritual significance.
But now some jewelry designers are making mala beads stylish enough to be worn with more than those Lululemons. They can be found in intriguing materials such as blue lace agate, studded with Swarovski crystals or embellished with rubies and diamonds and carrying price tags in the tens of thousands of dollars. There is even a Little Black Dress model — an elegantly simple mala bracelet in gold that would look great with a cocktail dress.
Eastern traditions underscore the luxe jewelry offerings at Buddha Mama. The brand makes a mala from moonstone and 20-karat gold beads, topped with a garnet and moonstone tassel, which sells for $5,700. Its matte gold dog tag mala, with brown wood, gold beads and cognac diamonds, retails for $26,700. Buddha Mama is available at Jaimie Geller Jewelry, Pacific Palisades, jaimiegellerjewelry.com
Jessica McMahon, designer of the Brass Thread line, says that mala beads provided the inspiration for even her edgiest offerings. “There is so much symbolism in all of our pieces,” she says, adding that many have 108 beads — a symbolic number for mala necklaces. A hot seller is the Black Elephant, a dramatic pendant hand-studded with glass beads and Swarovski crystals strung on a vermeil chain with glass pearl beads that is modeled on images of the Hindu elephant deity, Ganesh. $525, brassthread.com
Pretty, colorful and multifaceted beads on contrasting silk threads are a specialty at Bija Malas, which uses unusual stones such as chalcedony (a translucent quartz) and gray labradorite (known for its iridescence). Necklaces — which always contain 108 beads — range from $55 to $180. bijamalas.com
Sapphires and hand-carved brunette boxwood, square crystals tied with purple silk and mala beads made from vintage Bohemian crystal elevate the prayer bead to high-style status at Jen Stock Jewelry Designs. Necklaces go up to $1,000. jenstock.com