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

on Mar 21, 2013 in jewelry

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 who would cross over to visit La Caverna, its renowned club-restaurant, housed in a man-made cave-prison ostensibly dug out by prisoners themselves. In its long life (the place finally burned down in 1983 never to reopen) boasted the patronage of personalities as disparate as Dillinger and John Wayne.

Very close to La Caverna (possibly even next to it), the Martinez family had opened their jewelry shop, La Azteca. Brothers Jose and Elias Martinez were active jewelry makers at the time and at least Elias continued in the same business after the two moved to the States, presumably in the mid- to later 1960s. Elias passed away in Scottsdale, AZ in 2005 but I was offered an old newspaper clipping his brother kept which featured the younger Martinez’s silver- and gold-smithing career in the States.

According to Jose Martinez’s son, the store’s proximity to the La Caverna restaurant and the number of US films being shot in the area secured a rather famous clientele for La Azteca, among them none other than the legendary John Wayne. It is actually possible that the famous belt buckle that John Wayne wore in “Red River” was made by the Martinez family at La Azteca.

I hope you are at least as thrilled as I am with my discoveries so please come back in a few day for the third and last installment of this entry with more specifics about the “Red River” buckles and “La Azteca”…