Silver Artisans

Cultural Expressions of the Mexican Silver Artisans

by Tara A. Spears

silver earrings

Just as the land of Mexico teems with natural deposits of rich ores, for centuries the indigenous people have put their heart and beliefs into creating with the local silver bounty. Mexico has a long history of beautiful and inventive jewelry designs in sterling silver. The center of the Mexican silver industry is Taxco, in the state of Guerrero. While beautiful silver jewelry is also produced throughout the country, the leading hubs of silver art production are in Mexico City, Guadalajara and Cuernavaca, with the city of Taxco world famous for hand crafted silver items.

What to look for     silver necklace

The price of the sterling silver jewelry and art will be affected by the labor involved in making the item, the weight of the silver used, the skill of the craftsperson, and the intricacy of the design. The making of sterling silver jewelry can involve a variety of embellishments, such as the ornamentation, filigree, and inlays of precious stones besides the skill of the designers. Quality silver items will have a ‘mark’- which is a registered symbol of the craftsman- somewhere on the piece. The letters, numbers or pictures on the back of Mexican sterling silver jewelry are called hallmarks or trademarks. They can help you identify where the piece was made, the identity of the silversmith and the approximate age of the piece.

Common marks that are used are engraved onto either the back side or the inside of each piece of jewelry and should include “sterling“, “ster.”, 925, or .925 and 92.5. Sterling silver has the most ideal percentage of metal for having durability and a natural bright sheen and the patina. Regular polishing will keep the beautiful shine of its original appearance for years after purchase. In colonial times, the precious deposits of gems, silver and gold lured Europeans throughout Mexico which led to the melding of Christian images on jewelry with the characteristics of ancient gods revered by the native people. Even today, silver home and body decorations carry some of the psychological richness of Mayan, Inca, and Christian religious and naturalistic forms imbued with age-old ritual, protective, or celebratory value.

From the 1930 through the 1950s, artist colonies within Mexico arose which produced enormously influential silver jewelry. William Spratling and Margot de Taxco, along with many others, hand created jewelry masterpieces that became the ‘must have’ items for Hollywood actors, thus putting Mexico silver products in the world’s artistic consciousness. The aesthetics of the 1960s and 1970s brought its own influences to Mexican silver jewelry, increasing demand, and even today, Mexican silver art continues to be made and sold in extraordinary quantity. Older silver pieces have a more complicated, heavier look. Today’s Mexican jewelry can be found throughout the world, wherever nice silver is displayed.  

silver bracletTaxco silver jewelry production boomed during World War II because Europe was unavailable as a source of luxury goods during this time so many high end retailers in the United States and Canada turned south of the border to meet customer demand for exceptional silver art and jewelry. Taxco presently has over 300 silver workshops that produce hand-made silver jewelry that is now one the most recognized Mexican art forms. Each November, during the last week of the month, Taxco honors its source of wealth and fame with the world by hosting its famous Silver Fair- Feria Nacional de La Plata in Spanish, when the craftsmen, artists and silversmiths show their work and compete for a national prize is awarded to the best silver artist of the event.

Mexican Silversmiths

The Mexican silver masters, plateros, are renowned for their impressive craftsmanship, imagination, and design. Each begins their training as an apprentice with an established platero, usually working in a shop for ten years to learn how to be a silversmith. One local Riviera Nayarit silversmith, Armando Gonzalez Soto, on the main aveneda in La Penita, is the fourth generation to create fine jewelry, with his sons currently apprenticing with him. “I began learning from my grandfather at age 10,” said Armando. “After 12 years, I opened my own shop. Some of my brothers stayed in the apprenticeship for 15 years.” I’ve had Armando create several original items from sketches, and been very pleased with the result. Recently I spend a fascinating afternoon with Armando learning the jewelry making process from raw silver gram to final product- what delicate, intricate work!

 According to Armando, Mexican silversmiths use gem stones extensively to improve the fashionable look and attractiveness of silver jewelry making it more eye appealing to the buyers. The various kinds of gemstones that beautify silver jewelry must contain beauty, rarity, and durability with optical properties which highlight luster, fire, and color. He explained that all the better Mexican jewelers use only Mexican stones to enhance their creations. The precious stones include diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, topaz, and amethyst. Semi precious stones are aquamarine, amethyst, topaz, garnet, tourmaline, spinel, peridot, chrysobery, quartz, opal, turquoise, moonstone and jade. The organic gems include pearl, ambe, coral, and jet, and of these, pearl can also be counted as a precious stone.                                

As silver historian, Shirley Wiseman explains, silversmiths do not shape the metal while it is red-hot but instead, work it at room temperature with gentle and carefully placed hammer blows. The essence of silversmithing is to take a flat piece of metal and by means of different hammers, stakes, and other simple tools, to transform it into a useful object. Jewelry and silverware are traditionally made from sterling silver (standard silver which is an alloy of 92.5% silver with 7.5% copper.) Sterling silver is harder than pure silver.

Care of Silversilver earrings2

Although silver does not react to many chemicals, it does react with sulfur, which is always present in the air, even in trace amounts. This is what causes your skin to turn black or green when wearing pure silver jewelry. The reaction causes silver to tarnish, therefore, it must be polished periodically to retain its luster. You can purchase commercial cleaning liquids or treated silver cloths at most jewelers, or here is a homemade cleaning technique for sterling silver jewelry. Use salt and baking soda in a tin foil-covered container filled with hot water. Place the silver pieces in the container allowing them to touch, and soak for no more than five minutes. Rinse and pat dry with a cotton cloth.

I have several friends that only wear silver because they believe that it has mystic powers and is associated with the moon. Research suggests that silver has influence over the mind and emotions of its wearer or possessor, especially channeling love and healing. Whether you choose silver for its stunning looks or mythical properties, Mexican silver is a good investment and a great gift.

Silver is the whitest metallic element. It is rare, strong, corrosion resistant, and unaffected by moisture, vegetable acids, or alkalis. Silver is also resonant, moldable, malleable, and possesses the highest thermal and electric conductivity of any substance. But these facts aside, Mexican silver adds beauty and culture to your life.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons