From Taxco with Love: Mexican Jewelry Decoded

March 01, 2018 2 Comments

mexican jewelry

 

You don’t need to be hopelessly in love with Mexican jewelry to love Taxco. You will be hooked anyway once you set foot in the picturesque little Mexican town, located just over 100 miles southwest of Mexico City. It happened to me, too. No one is immune.

Exploring the Home of Mexican Silver

The traditional, well-preserved colonial little town is the perfect destination for a romantic weekend, or just a day trip, and is sure to charm you with its stunning architecture, amazing artistry, challenging steep cobbled streets (cardio fanatics, this one’s for you!), ancient churches and, yes…silver. The precious metal will be the leitmotif of your trip to Taxco because…it’s literally everywhere. The city has stayed loyal to its silver mining past, and today it is a heaven for silver lovers.

Known as one of the oldest mining sites in the Americas, Taxco has attracted early conquistadors with its wealth: precious silver. To celebrate this natural gift, every year, during the last week of November, Taxco honors its treasure with the world famous Silver Fair (Feria Nacional de La Plata). This is the perfect opportunity for silversmiths, craftsmen, and artists to showcase their work and compete for the “best silver artist of the Fair” prize. You might want to plan your trip accordingly.

Taxco, Mexico

If you are lucky enough to visit this little corner of paradise (Taxco is also known as “el pueblo magico” - you will understand why once you are there), you will be wowed by the never-ending string of silver shops (platerias) that feature traditional Mexican silver pieces, such as jewelry, statuettes, platters, etc. Frequently, these goods are created on-site by skilled artisans, offering passers-by a feast for the eyes.

 

How Did Taxco Become the Silver Mecca of Mexico?

Mexican silver, one of the best-known exports of the country, has a long and rich (hi)story which started with the Aztecs. They were the true pioneers of silver mining from the Sierra Madre Mountains and the few Aztec jewels that survived the Spanish conquest are proof of their undeniable craftsmanship. After the fall of the Aztec Empire, the Spanish arrived in Mexico looking for tin, but instead they discovered silver. Sensing the huge potential of the local natural resources, Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes staked his silver mining claim in Taxco de Alarcón in the early 16th century. Little did he know he was starting a “silver revolution”.

By the end of the 16th century, Taxco was already famous on the Old Continent for its exquisite silver and was officially Spain’s main source of precious metals in the New World. Local artisans eagerly bought vast quantities of the metal and created outstanding handmade sterling jewelry that became coveted by the royals across Europe.

After this first boom, Taxco’s mines were soon depleted, and it took around 200 years for the next veins to be found. In 1743, Spanish miner Don Jose de la Borda’s discovery of a new silver deposit started another long and prosperous period for Taxco. However, the Mexican War of Independence caused the silver mining industry to shut down and Taxco to settle for a long period where silver was no longer the main topic.

In 1931, the ancient craft of silver jewelry was revived in Taxco by William Spratling, an American architecture professor. “The Father of Mexican Sterling Silver”, as he was later named, dreamed to turn Taxco into a famous city of world-class jewelry design so, by the late 1930s, he had employed over 100 Mexican silversmiths and apprentices and trained them to create unique silver pieces. Soon his workshop would supply outstanding jewelry to prestigious stores in the United States, such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus (Taxco silversmiths also produced pieces for established brands, such asTiffany's in New York City). The Mexican sterling silver jewelry industry was a big thing.

Today, Taxco prides itself in hundreds of workshops, and the finest local artisans are famous all around the world. Silver jewelry is currently one the most recognized Mexican art forms and Taxco boasts an international reputation for giving the world some of the highest quality and most stunning silver jewelry out there. If only Spratling could see all this…  

 

Symbolism in Mexican Silver Jewelry

Today Mexican silver jewelry is everywhere, from the Paris fashion runways to the red carpets of Hollywood. Gone are the days when traditional pieces could only be purchased in local kiosks or folklore shops. The made in Mexico jewelry is found in luxury department stores and is sported by international celebs and fashionistas alike. And that’s pretty impressive.

The great thing about Taxco jewelry is that it’s for every taste. Mexico’s silversmiths have been inspired by every major artistic movement of the 20th century (think Art Deco, Post Modernism, and Pop Art) creating outstanding pieces that suit every style and budget.

When we think of Mexican jewelry, there are two major categories that come to mind: the cultural jewelry (traditional pieces that tourists take back home after holidaying in Mexico) and the art jewelry (rather sophisticated, precious items meant to revamp any fine jewelry collection).

The cultural pieces capture the essence of Old Mexico and are mainly inspired by pre-Colombian geometrics, animals, nature, religion, superstitions, or wars (think sombreros, flowers, warriors, jaguars, masks, and hearts in the form of beautiful jewelry). They often incorporate semi-precious stones like the very popular turquoise or coral.

On the other hand, the art pieces may depict aboriginal and traditional motifs like the cultural ones, but they often reflect influences from various art movements and also the personal taste and vision of the artist.

 

Tradition, Craftsmanship, Inspiration

mexican silvermakers

Whether they are artisans or people continuing a family tradition, the crafty Mexican jewelry makers who have been designing beautiful pieces in Taxco for decades are always setting new trends and innovating exciting styles and techniques. However, as with everything, practices have evolved, and today many modern jewelry designers are using software, 3D printing and laser instead of the traditional molds. Labor is skilfully combined with technology and the results are simply spectacular.

Mexican jewelry takes inspiration from the country’s rich history, traditions, culture, and nature. The mix of ancient customs and modern sophistication is a winning one, as shown by the huge popularity of Mexican silver jewelry around the world.

It may come as a surprise that most of the precious metals like silver and gold sold in the U.S. come from Mexico. This only shows the significant role Mexican jewelry plays in the U.S. jewelry market, with its high-quality materials and gorgeous designs.

 

Assessing the Age of Vintage Mexican Jewelry

silver hallmarks

Wondering about the numbers, letters, and pictures on the back of Mexican silver jewelry? Let us enlighten you.

Called hallmarks or trademarks, these codes indicate the composition, where and when a piece of jewelry was made, and also the identity of the silversmith. To make it easier for you, here are the three periods of hallmarking Mexican silver jewelry during the 20th century.

  • The Golden Age of silversmithing in Mexico dates from the early 20th century up to 1948. This period sees a revival of silver jewelry thanks to famous silversmiths, such as William Spratling, Hector Aguilar, Fred Davis, Matilde Poulat, and Margot de Taxco. Each artist brought a personal contribution to the industry revamping techniques that had been lost during the colonial period and favoring beautiful pre-Colombian motifs. Since there was no official stamping system back in the day, the top silversmiths established their own personal way of hallmarking their jewelry.
  • In 1948 the Mexican government decided to introduce a national hallmarking control system and started taxing the silver production. This was caused by the booming silver demand around WWII when massive exports to the U.S. and Europe lowered the quality of the silver jewelry, but also because the government together with the National Syndicate of Silversmiths decided to make an income out of this flourishing economy. Anyone who produced silver items had to register by the Assay Office and was given an Eagle Assay mark with a number which guaranteed that the piece was made of sterling quality (purity of 925/1000). However, in this period generic hallmarks were still being used in addition to the Eagle mark.
  • This system was used until 1980 when, due to excessive cases of fraud, the Mexican government decided to use a different method for hallmarking silver. All jewelry producers and designers had to register once again with the Assay Office, but this time they were assigned a more complex code comprised of letters and numbers. The first letter stood for the location where the maker lived and worked, while the second letter was the first letter of his or her last name. The number that followed was actually the registration number of the person in that specific location (e.g. the mark TP – 32 indicated that the item was made in Taxco by a jeweler whose name started with the letter P who was the 32nd silversmith registered by the Taxco Assay Office.

Mexican silver jewelry hallmarks usually include the “925” purity mark, and sometimes also the word “sterling”. You may find the stamp “MEXICO” or “HECHO EN MEXICO” (Made in Mexico) too, but some older pieces may just be signed “MEXICO SILVER.”

Nowadays the markings found on Mexican sterling silver jewelry are rather simple. Usually, the hallmark would consist of either a 925 or 950 stamp and the initials of the artist who created the piece.

 

The International Fame of Mexican Jewelry

If Taxco is not a place you will be visiting in the near future, there is still hope: you can enjoy wearing gorgeous Mexican jewelry by ordering it online. There, problem solved. Thanks to the technology-oriented world we live in, the internet made the silver pieces crafted in this tiny corner of the world available throughout six continents to a varied international clientele. This only means that the number of people wearing jewelry made in Taxco is today higher than ever, and growing.

The Mexican jewelry industry has earned its undisputed place in the world. Despite a constant evolution of jewelry trends over the years (endless styles that gained, but also lost popularity) Taxco silver has always been praised and sought after for its high quality by silversmiths and jewelry lovers alike.

Jewels are symbolic pieces with sentimental value for most people (if we think about it, almost every important moment in our lives is sealed with a precious piece of jewelry). Besides, with time, high-end jewelry can also become an interesting investment given that its value tends to rise. And that’s always a bonus.

 

Have you visited Taxco, Mexico? Did you get a piece of the legendary silver jewelry? Tell us in your comments below.

2 Responses

Ernesta P ( Owner )
Ernesta P ( Owner )

June 17, 2018

Dan,

Here is a website that will assist you in deciphering who the designer may be.

http://www.925-1000.com/mexican_marks.html

Dan Tharpe
Dan Tharpe

June 17, 2018

I have a silver “walnut” pill box marked “T5-134 Mexico 925.”
Would you happen to know anything about the designer or could you
refer me to someone who would know anything about this mark?

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