Mexican silver is world-renowned and has been mined and used in the country for thousands of years. In this month’s edition, we provide our readers with an insight into the history of filigree jewellery and a trip around different states of Mexico well-known for their mastery of the technique.
Filigree is ornamental work of fine silver or gold wire formed into delicate tracery. Prior to the arrival of the Spaniards in Mexico in the 16th century, jewellery was made out of coral, abalone shell, jade and gold which was traded between the Mayan and Aztec population. After the arrival of the Spaniards, the Arabic influence brought by the colony, coupled with the brilliant artistry of Mexican artisans, and a unique style of this technique was conceived. Exquisite jewellery was created using representations of nature mostly in the form of flowers and leaves.
The traditional process by hand is extremely time and labour consuming: the artisans smelt the metal to make the wire that is later thinned in a rolling mill and then reduced further until the desired thickness is attained for each piece. The gold or silver wire is round in shape and small notches are made through a process called tarrajado (hand threading) to flatten the wire. This is then cut into small pieces by hand and with the help of scissors and tweezers, the artisans create incredibly intricate pieces. These are assembled on top of a refractory stone and welded so that all the pieces remain together and, once in place, the piece is polished.
The state of Oaxaca - mentioned in one of our previous Newsletters in more detail - is not only famous for its barro negro (black clay pottery), but also for its filigree, as the jewellery is worn as part of the traditional dress for festivities and highly prized within the local culture. Monte Alban is particularly known for its gold workshops.
The state of Yucatan is also renowned for its filigree which is incredibly thin, and the pieces are very delicate with incredible detail. In the early 1900s gold jewellery boomed in Yucatan when the henequen plantations produced unprecedented wealth in the region and filigree jewellery became very fashionable among the affluent plantation owners. Today, beautiful pieces are often handed down as family heirlooms.
Silver was not a popular choice amongst the wealthy locals, and it was not until 1940s that filigree in the state of Yucatan was produced in silver rather than gold to export abroad. In more recent years, the workshops have reduced in size and number as it takes four to five years to learn the techniques to produce filigree jewellery and, in some cases, this has been replaced by a machine. However, filigree jewellery is still highly valued in Mexico and can be predominantly found in Oaxaca and Yucatan.
MIM offers you a selection of beautiful, intricate pieces from Yucatan. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to buy handmade filigree jewellery from Mexico!