Following up on Marjorie’s post last week, I thought I would take a moment to share my take on Vintage and Antique Mexican Silver Jewelry as well as some of the pieces we have recently encountered. Mexico has long produced some of the finest Artisan jewelry in the world.
Through most of the major 20th century movements, from Art Deco to Post Modern to Pop — Mexico’s silversmiths have been putting out gorgeous pieces. We are fans of Mexican silver and buy and sell it on a pretty much daily basis.
I generally separate Mexican jewelry into two categories: Tourist pieces and art pieces.
1. The Tourist pieces are often figural and usually depict traditional Mexican themes of aboriginal and modern origin. Donkeys, Aztec Designs (calendars etc), Sombreros and Masks are quite popular today and have been for the last 75 years. These pieces are usually crafted from Sterling Silver and often incorporate semi-precious mosaic work (turquoise and coral) as well as carved stones (quartz, obsidian, turquoise etc). Many of the more modern tourist piece rely heavily on dyed turquoise and fabricated coral. I have mixed feelings on the tourist pieces. Some of them (especially pieces from the 70’s) are so kitschy that they are irresistible. Others are outright garish. The quality ranges from student work to master crafted and everything in-between. We feature many of the nicer tourist pieces in our eBay store.
2. The art pieces are of course a completely different ball game. While often incorporating some of the same motifs as the tourist pieces (both aboriginal and traditional) these items are reflective of artistic movements and personal artistic inspiration. Modernism seems to have flourished particularly well in Mexico. We’ve sold a number of mid-century Taxco pieces that easily meet or exceed the quality of modernist Danish and American works. Several studios, owned by both Mexicans and Gringos, operated during this era and thus there is an abundance of representative pieces available in the marketplace.
Dating Mexican Silver
Dating Mexican silver can be a bit tricky. 925-1000.com has a useful primer on the subject and a great break-down of particular artists’ marks. We use the following rules of thumb:
1. “Silver” “Silver Mexico” “980 Mexico” “980” Generally pre-1950
2. Eagle Marks – 1950’s-1970’s
3. Coded (for example “TH-121 925 Mexico”) or Just 925MEXICO = Late 1970’s to Present. The coding system was introduced by legislation and used the first initial of the City (e.g. T for Taxco) followed by the first initial of the registrant’s last name (e.g. “H” Hernandez) and the a number indicating how many people before the smith registered in the same city with the same name. A lot of jewelry coming out of Mexico right now (especially from the big manufacturers like ATI) is just marked “925 MEXICO”.
In addition to these marking rules, you can rely on dating techniques that apply to all jewelry (see our article on the subject). For example, screw back earrings are going to generally pre-date butterfly nut posts. Laser welding marks = modern. However, keep in mind that a lot of Mexican art jewelry and tourist jewelry is made exactly as it was 50-100 years ago and thus it can be difficult to pin down an age.
A note on Fakes: There is an increasing amount of non-silver jewelry in the marketplace that is stamped 925 Mexico. It is usually very easy to spot based on weight and quality and is not nearly as prevalent as the general junk silver around that is just marked 925. Alpaca is also sometimes mistaken or intentionally misrepresented as Silver. There is no silver in Alpaca, but it is quite lovely in its own right. We will be doing a post on Alpaca in the coming weeks.