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Plateria La Azteca, John Wayne’s Red Rived Belt Buckle and the Silversmithing of the Martinez family: Part Two

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A week or so ago, I embarked on a “journey” to the town of Nogales in the state of Sonora, Mexico to trace the origins of a gorgeous vintage Mexican silver necklace I acquired bearing the unkown signature of La Azteca. My virtual trip was definitely not the result of a revelation – it was prompted by a polite and very informative message I received from a gentleman who responded to my frustration about the lack of information on the history of Plateria La Azteca by telling me that it was actually his family who owned and operated it in the 1940s until the mid-1960s. Just across the border from its US counterpart in Texas, Nogales, Sonora was a classic frontier town with its share of bootlegging, freewheeling and even combat during the Mexican Revolution. In the 1940s, with several Western movies shot in the surrounding area, it became the playground for famous actors...

Plateria La Azteca, John Wayne’s Red River Belt Buckle and the silversmithing of the Martinez family: Part One

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Anybody who loves vintage Mexican silver jewelry and is interested in the context within which those handmade treasures were created is painfully aware of the dearth of information on the circumstances of most maestros responsible for Mexico’s 20th c. Silver Renaissance. There are, of course, some excellent works on several of the most famous makers yet we have barely (if at all) even scratched the surface where the majority of the silversmiths responsible for it is concerned. We are all trying to compose a picture of those amazing decades following the 1920s by putting together little bits and pieces of information gleaned from various sources – often ones that are not even relevant to the history of jewelry making per se. In our quest the web has definitely proven an invaluable “deus ex machina” – and just a month or so ago, I was privileged enough to...

Hearts of Stone for … Valentine’s

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It’s about Valentine’s Day and most of us get into that funny, blissful-as-a-puppy mode again! And even if our budgets have probably not recovered from the holidays yet, the search for the absolutely perfect gift for our precious “others” is back on. Well, don’t go too far as I have some good suggestions – or so I believe at least… There is a whole genre within vintage Mexican silver jewelry that can work perfectly for you this year – and, hopefully, also ever after! Made primarily in the pre-1948 period, these silver and carved stone heart pieces come in all forms and in several colors as well. Though I have never seen one with amethyst – quite surprisingly if you think of the stone’s popularity with Mexican silversmiths and designers – “heart” bracelets, brooches, pins and earrings feature agates in various...

The magic of JOSE FEDERICO’s Enamels

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I am finally back after months and months of promising myself that tomorrow would be the day to start a new post. I guess later is better than never but you would have to be the judge of this… And since Spring seems to be with us already this year, I thought I’d write about enamel jewelry because I always found them perfect for the sunny days of spring and summer… I have an old fascination with enameled jewelry – there is something about the transparent lucidity of guilloche that reminds me of enchanted waters and fragile aquatic Nymphs while the saturated opaqueness of champleve takes my breath away with its strong, almost primordial presence. When I got to know Mexican jewelry, circumstances were already mature for a love affair with Margot’s exquisite enamels – I don’t need to talk about her here; who doesn’t know Margot or the latest...

The Incredible Casa Maya

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What can be more vexing to a trained historian looking for information on a subject than the dearth of relevant literature? Almost nothing – believe me when I tell you! And unfortunately, this is the case with vintage Mexican jewelry. Despite the existence of a handful of good works on Taxco’s Silver Renaissance, the most recent among them being Penny Morrill’s book on Margot de Taxco’s enamel designs, and several interviews with Taxco maestros and magazine articles scattered here and there, there is so much that we still don’t know about the majority of those involved in it, both “big names” and “less celebrated” silversmiths. One could easily say that we have barely scratched the surface… So imagine my surprise when I discovered that there is a whole new publication on – can you even guess? – the history and...

Starting with the less celebrated…

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Well, it would make sense when inaugurating a blog about vintage Mexican silver jewelry to begin with an ode to one of the big maestros, wouldn’t it? But then, this is just so predictable! Without wanting to belittle the creative genius of Spratling or Aguilar or Margot de Taxco (how could I anyway?), wouldn’t it be fun if I started with someone whose work is of the highest quality yet about whom we don’t really know that much? Among my most favorite less celebrated silversmiths and designers (and for some reason I am assuming that we are dealing with a man here – don’t ask me why!), I like to refer to him as “the heart artist” because he signs his pieces with the initials “A” and “E” inside a heart-shaped “M”. Unfortunately, though he is listed in Bille Hougart’s, The Little Book of Mexican Silver, we...