Mexican Silver Jewelry
By Elizabeth Berger M.D.
What visitor to Mexico can return without purchasing at
least one piece of silver jewelry? These accessories, so very chic at this
moment in fashion-conscious circles, have always exerted a special magic.
Mexico is rich in natural deposits of silver, and the trade of silver was
the origin of seaport towns such as Puerto Vallarta well before its modern
heyday as a resort. Hopes of plunder of its precious deposits of gems,
silver, and gold lured Europeans throughout Mexico in colonial times, and
led to the melding of Christian images on jewelry with the characteristics
of ancient gods indigenous to the native peoples. In Mexico even today, the
decoration of the body with metalwork (and also, of churches and dwellings)
carries some of the psychological richness of religious and naturalistic
forms imbued with age-old ritual, protective, or celebratory value.
A lively interest in humble Mexican folk artistry
developed in the United States as early as the l920's--along with an
appreciation for emerging Mexican artists, such as the mural painters Diego
Riviera and Jose Orosco, who were then working on an urbane and
international level. Mexican silver jewelry, with its
impressive craftsmanship, imagination, and exoticism, offered North
Americans an opportunity to purchase on a small scale an authentic work of
art that shared its roots with major movements in contemporary intellectual
tastes. Within Mexico, artist colonies arose which produced enormously
influential silver jewelry from the 1930's through the 1950ís. The names
associated with this movement--William Spratling and Margot de Taxco among
many others--are revered by collectors today; glossy books document their
jewelry masterpieces. The aesthetic of the 1960's and 1970's brought its own
influences to Mexican silver, which continues to be made and sold today in
Today's buyer may wish to do a bit of personal research
before the actual trip to Mexico. North Americans will discover large
amounts of contemporary Mexican silver jewelry at the local mall wherever
nice silver is displayed; although not necessarily advertised as such, many
rings, earrings, pins, necklaces, and bracelets now being sold--especially
those with abalone, turquoise, or semiprecious stone inlays--were imported
from Mexico. Older pieces often find their way to vintage, antique, and
collectible stores; these pieces tend to have a more complicated, heavier
look. A price tag of ten to fifty dollars usually accompanies these items
whether old or new. For those at home in cyberspace, a review of eBay
offerings can provide hours of enlightenment regarding both typical styles
and typical prices; search on "vintage Mexican silver" or "sterling" or "Taxco"
(a city known for its silver), or a combination of these terms.
The markings inside silver jewelry bedevil the earnest
student, as they are often "stamped" in some motif although illegibly so.
Many pieces are helpfully labeled "sterling;" others--especially older
pieces--dubbed "silver" or "Mexico silver." Often the international system
of grading silver, such as 925 or 800 to indicate the degree of purity, has
been employed. In addition, some pieces state, "Hecho in Mexico" or "Taxco"
(i.e. manufactured in these places). Very often a symbol or initials, or
some combination of these elements is also stamped into the metal--rendering
it "signed" by the artist or his studio. Many fine pieces however are
unmarked altogether or marked in such a way that it is hard to make out what
Although silver itself is not exceedingly expensive,
tin or base metal washed with silver or various other substitutions are much
cheaper and Mexican jewelry is often made of these materials. "Alpaca" is a
Spanish term frequently stamped on jewelry indicating a durable, brilliant
white metal (similar to so-called German silver or nickel silver), which
indeed contains no actual silver at all. Many of these jewelry pieces are
worked with the same care and artistic charm as examples made from silver,
however, so the buyer need not scorn them altogether although the price
should be considerably lower.
The initial asking price for Mexican jewelry may be
immobile in a commercialized establishment such as a department store or
elegant boutique; in flea markets, tiny stalls, or on the street the price
tends to be a more fluid entity, subject to sudden precipitous falls as the
shopper expresses doubt or begins to walk away without making a purchase.
There is a fine art to bargaining in Mexico, and a wily and experienced
buyer may sometimes consummate a deal at a figure one half or even
one-fourth the amount announced at the beginning. The tourist should bear in
mind however that whether or not there is eventual agreement on the price,
the maintenance of polite and gracious dignity is an extremely important
feature of Mexican social interaction. A rushed, demanding, and impersonal
style of communication among strangers (which North Americans recognize
as bad manners but tolerate as commonplace in our own culture) may be
experienced by Latin Americans as astonishingly and shockingly insulting. In
addition, the tourist should remain aware that a few dollars more or less in
the end probably will make very little difference to his own well being,
whereas these same few dollars may represent a major portion of the seller's
income that day.
Elizabeth Berger M.D. is the author of Raising
Children with Character. Read more about her and her parenting book at