8 Facts About the History of Mexican Jewelry
Mexico’s history is filled with many intriguing and fascinating twists and turns. From the pre-Columbian era to the country’s history with silver, the many eras and events have shaped what we today call Mexico.
While there are too many events and moments to possibly scratch the surface with a blog post, keep reading to learn 8 of our favorite facts about Mexican history.
1. It all started in the pre-Columbian era
That’s right. Jewelry has been crafted and worn in Mexico for thousands of years! And modern Mexican jewelry has its roots in the very designs and pieces that were created all that time ago.
The era before Spanish settlers landed on the shores of what is today known as Mexico is known as the pre-Columbian era. Generally, this refers to civilizations such as:
While designs and materials during this period started simple, they eventually advanced. In fact, given how important it was to the culture, there were craftspeople who focused solely on jewelry making alongside ceramics and weapons.
These civilizations used jewelry not only for personal style, but also were used by high society as a show of status. Further, it was used as a store of value and something to trade for goods and services.
2. Silver has always been used in Mexican jewelry
Ever since human beings have lived in what is today Mexico, silver has been a crucial material. To this day, silver drives much of Mexico’s cultural exports and is an important part of the country’s economy.
Early on, pre-Columbian civilizations mined and traded silver. They also used the material to make jewelry, crafting detailed and intricate items that they left as offerings to the gods. When the Spanish arrived, they saw the abundance of silver as a way to finance New Spain and generate wealth.
Today, silver mines still line the country and Mexican jewelry is still a cultural touchstone.
3. Jewelry in Mexico has always been influenced by the natural world
In Mexican jewelry today, you’ll often find many pieces that are rooted in imagery of the natural world. While modern jewelry enthusiasts love this look, it is grounded in designs from the pre-Columbian period.
Pre-Columbian civilizations greatly respected the natural world, and often integrated this respect into the jewelry they created. For instance, civilizations integrated jaguars, flowers, fish, trees, and a plethora of other symbols into their jewelry. This imagery often represented special meanings such as power, wisdom, or independence, and was thought to bring these qualities to the wearer’s life.
4. Modern Mexican jewelry has lots of Spanish influence
When the Spanish arrived in Mexico, they recognized the beauty of the elaborate and inspired jewelry and the potential of production, given the silver in the country.
Spanish designers then used silver and gemstone sourced and popular in Europe to create hybrid designs. At the time of Spanish settlement, intricate earring designs were popular in mainland Europe. This seeped into Mexican jewelry designs, and continues to be a popular style of jewelry in Mexican jewelry designs.
The Spanish also brought new techniques to Mexico — including filigree and repousse. They also learned to encrust jewelry with smaller gemstones, bringing new types of design to the scene.
5. William Spratling popularized what we know today as Mexican jewelry
Known as the godfather of Mexican jewelry, William Spratling is an important figure in the history of Mexican jewelry. A trained architect, Spratling moved to Mexico in 1927 and quickly became entranced with the pre-Columbian style of Mexican jewelry.
He quickly set up shop and began hand-crafting jewelry based around pre-Columbian concepts, but with modern styles and motifs, including Cubism, Surrealism, and Art Deco influences.
Based out of Taxco, Spratling ran a workshop that went on to train other craftspeople and is largely credited with popularizing and bringing to prominence Mexican jewelry across the world.
6. His friendship with Diego Rivera led to his interest in Mexican jewelry
A little known fact about William Spratling is that he first moved to Mexico to teach architecture at National University of Mexico’s summer school. While there, he became immersed in the art scene and befriended Diego Rivera. He eventually helped organize an exhibition of Rivera’s art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
This period of time in Spratling’s life helped develop his love of Mexican culture. So much so that with the commission he made helping set up Rivera’s exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he bought his home in Taxco, Mexico in 1929.
7. Taxco has turned into the jewelry epicenter of Mexico
After Spratling moved to Taxco in 1929, the city gradually became the most important city for Mexican jewelry design and production in all of Mexico.
Before Spratling’s move, Taxco was known for its abundance of silver mines. What is now Taxco was actually settled in the pre-Columbian era for the very same reason, mining silver and using it to make jewelry and their offerings to the gods.
While Taxco had a tradition of silver, in the 1930s there was not much of a silverworking industry. Once Spratling started designing jewelry, gaining in popularity, and working with other local craftspeople, Spratling opened his first workshop, Calle Las Delicias, in 1933. There, he started an apprenticeship program. This helped energize the city’s jewelry industry, as more and more local artisans were being trained to create original and beautiful Mexican jewelry. Today, this tradition continues to thrive with exciting jewelry being crafted daily!
8. You can still buy jewelry rooted in the history of Mexico
The tradition of Mexican jewelry lives on today with the many brilliant craftspeople of Taxco, Mexico. At Mexican Silver Store, we work with authentic craftsmen and women to bring the wonders of Mexican jewelry and the tradition of Mexican history around the world. We sell jewelry that honors the tradition of Mexican jewelry, while still offering modern designs and motifs.
Browse our selection of stunning jewelry and own a piece of the magnificence of Mexican history for yourself!