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

on Mar 10, 2013 in jewelry

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 learn about Plateria La Azteca, a little known taller in Nogales, Texas; this unexpected revelation made me want to scream with enthusiasm!

It all started with a gorgeous necklace I acquired bearing that signature – it’s one of those pieces that can drive you crazy because its quality is such that you feel there should be something in the books about the maker yet … it’s only silence you encounter.


Based on the way the necklace was hallmarked, I knew it was made in the 1940s and hypothesized it had a Mexico City provenance. So I wrote it up and put out there for sale. Later, going through my inventory, I found a zodiac pin with turquoise chip inlay also made by La Azteca – and some further research on Ebay revealed a couple of similar examples. The pins were well-made for sure but nothing like the necklace.

And then, the email came – from a gentleman living in the US who told me it was his father and his uncle who, in the 1940s, owned and operated Plateria La Azteca in … Nogales, Texas! Who had ever heard of Nogales within the context of vintage Mexican silver jewelry?

Well, the story keeps getting more interesting – so please come back in a couple of days for the second installment!