The Sparkling World of Mexican Goldsmiths and Jewelers
Discover Mexico's rich goldsmithing and jewelry tradition, from the ancient Mexica civilization to modern-day artisans. Explore techniques like filigree, embossing, and sustainability in this vibrant craft, and celebrate the skilled artisans preserving this unique metalworking heritage.
In the ancient Mexica civilization, goldsmiths or tecuitlahuaque held a special place in society. Their exceptional manual skills and ability to shape precious metals into beautiful objects were seen as an expression of cultural and aesthetic codes. Today's goldsmiths continue to merge their manual skills with cultural capital, resulting in metalwork that is not only beautiful but also deeply meaningful.
Crafting Heavy Silver Arracadas
The Mazahua villages in the Toluca Valley are known for their large silver arracadas - earrings made with intricate designs of flowers, butterflies, and birds. These stunning creations are surprisingly heavy, yet native women wear them with grace and charm, as described by Isabel Marín.
The Colonial Prohibition on Silversmithing
Goldsmiths faced a difficult circumstance during the colonial period when natives were prohibited from practicing silversmithing. The penalty for breaking this absurd rule was death. This limitation persisted until the 18th century when the innate talent of native artisans was finally acknowledged and the establishment of silversmith orders was allowed. Initially, the focus was on creating religious objects, but with time, the popular branch of silversmithing began to dominate in terms of abundance and variety.
San Felipe del Progreso
Goldsmithing is a thriving craft in San Felipe del Progreso, the epicenter of the Mazahua region in the state of Mexico. Mazahua goldsmiths are skilled in various metalworking techniques, including embossing and chiseling. Embossing involves hammering a metal or leather object to create raised figures, while chiseling involves delicately highlighting a pre-designed drawing on the metal.
Filigree Decoration Technique
Filigree is another decoration technique that involves creating intricate designs using gold or silver threads, which are carefully joined and soldered together. As one of the oldest goldsmithing techniques, filigree showcases the ductility of gold and silver, allowing for the creation of long filaments that can be shaped into countless figures.
Goldsmithing vs. Jewelry
The difference between goldsmithing and jewelry lies in the size and purpose of the pieces created. Goldsmithing typically involves larger pieces or sets, while jewelry consists of smaller accessories primarily used for personal adornment. Jewelry often features precious or semiprecious stones, examples of which include necklaces, earrings, pins, chains, and crosses, all showcasing the intricate art of setting stones.
Naucalpan and Nezahualcóyotl
Goldsmithing and jewelry work can also be found in Naucalpan and Nezahualcóyotl. In addition to the items mentioned earlier, artisans in these areas create bells, sculptures, letter openers, paperweights, card holders, rings, and bracelets. Each piece testifies to the remarkable skill of Mexican artisans, whose creations stand proudly alongside their international counterparts.
Modern Techniques and Sustainability
While honoring the past, today's goldsmiths and jewelers are also incorporating modern techniques and technologies into their craft. Computer-aided design (CAD) and 3D printing are just a few examples of innovations that are revolutionizing the industry. These advancements allow for greater precision, customization, and efficiency in creating unique and intricate pieces.
At the same time, there is a growing emphasis on sustainable practices within the goldsmithing and jewelry sectors. Ethical sourcing of materials, recycling precious metals, and implementing environmentally friendly production methods are just some of the ways artisans are working to reduce their ecological footprint and promote a more responsible industry.
The goldsmithing and jewelry traditions of Mexico have deep roots in the country's history and culture. From the ancient Mexica civilization to modern-day San Felipe del Progreso, Naucalpan, and Nezahualcóyotl, Mexican artisans have showcased their remarkable talents in shaping precious metals into stunning works of art. These creations not only serve as beautiful adornments but also as a testament to the resilience and inventiveness of Mexican craftsmen.
As we continue to appreciate the art of goldsmithing and jewelry, it is essential to preserve and promote Mexico's rich metalworking tradition. By supporting local artisans and encouraging the younger generation to learn these valuable skills, we can ensure that the legacy of the tecuitlahuaque will endure for centuries to come.
In-Text Citation: Artesanía Mexiquense, La Magia De Nuestra Gente. 1st ed., Mexico, Gobierno del Estado de México, 2006.