Vintage and Antique Mexican Silver Jewelry

Deco

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.

donkey 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.Mask

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.

bracelet

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

Taxco 980

2.  Eagle Marks –  1950’s-1970’s

Mask Taxco Mark

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.

Collecting Vintage & Antique Silver Jewelry – Life Lessons Learned

Collecting Vintage & Antique Silver Jewelry – Life Lessons Learned

by Marjorie

It would require several lifetimes to complete a truly representative collection of Vintage Silver Jewelry – I know because after 25 years of avid collecting, I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s available in the marketplace. I hope that my early experience in this hobby (read obsession) will be of some benefit to those just starting out.

My Feeding Frenzy

Initially, I had no focus. If it was silver and it was vintage – I bought it. Within a year or two I had amassed a sizeable collection of brooches, rings, necklaces, chatelaines, bracelets of every type and enough earrings to decorate the Rockefeller Christmas Tree. But – the collection was severely lacking. Common brands like Beau and CarlArt were over represented. I had too many thoughtless, gaudy leaf brooches and an unjust supply of once vermeil, but now “spotty” rings.  The euphoria of “buying” had worn off  – It was a real crisis and the diagnosis was grim.

LESSON LEARNED: Don’t buy everything!

My Deco Delusion

The only solution was to liquidate the bulk of the collection and get some focus. I re-engaged by visiting my favorite antique stores and limiting my purchases to one essential piece a month. There was an early inclination to target Deco pieces – but I know now that was just because it seemed like the “sophisticated” answer to my earlier mistakes. I bought a classic 800 silver and black French paste bracelet, a marcasite studded Raven (which turned out to be a reproduction) and a pair of matching geometric bangles. I wasn’t happy.

LESSON LEARNED: Don’t focus on eras, cultures or brands just because they sound cool. Don’t worry about whether other people will be impressed by your taste.

I get in touch with my inner Taxco

I kept the Deco pieces – as a reminder to never buy anything again that I wouldn’t wear if I was just spending the day at home and to instead focus on the pieces that made me happy. The only piece from my early collecting days that I wore regularly was a stark green quartz and 980 silver Taxco brooch. It incorporated a mix of modernistic lines and more naturalistic swirls in striking to contrast to each other. I loved this piece (I left in an airport bathroom along with my jacket). How stupid I was not to recognize that this was MY STYLE! – and should be the focus of the collection. It was easy to find like minded folks at the growing number of flea markets and swap meets in here in the North East. I got to know quality dealers and learned to identify periods, styles and even individual designers without having to remove a piece from a display case. My collection was smaller – and I was happier for it.

LESSON LEARNED: Figure out what you honestly like and stick with that to start. Find other people who share your passion and try to learn as much as you can from them.

The Dawn of the Information Age (at least for me!)

Then came the growth of online shopping ….. suddenly every imaginable piece was at my fingertips. I was in grave danger of again entering a remorseless feeding frenzy – but I though back on my CarlArt days and focused on disciplined buying. I learned that some of my prized possessions were not quite as rare as I’d thought and that others were far more valuable than I believed. Most importantly – I learned more than I ever could have even if I travelled to every flea market and antique store in the country. By prudently shopping on eBay and Etsy, I was able to put together a museum worthy collection. I am hoping to share some photos with all of you in the next time I contribute to the Hunter Ridge blog.

LESSON LEARNED: The internet is evil! (Just kidding). Stay focused on quality even when the market and / or your access to it changes.

Thanks – and best of luck in your collecting endeavors.