All that Glitters: Taxco’s “Golden” Age

While some might dismiss jewelry from Taxco, Mexico as “tourist jewelry,” they probably haven’t seen some of the outstanding works which emerged from this part of Mexico beginning in the 1930’s. 

 William Spratling is largely credited for bringing the craft of Mexican silver into the 20th century and elevating it to high art. Spratling began designing and developing new ways of turning this relatively humble metal into elegant jewelry, table top pieces, and décor. 

Since the time of the Aztecs, Taxco (or Tasco) has been a center for silver mining and production. But in the 1920’s William Spratling elevated the craft with avant-garde designs and new techniques.

 Mexican silversmiths, working alongside Spratling, began creating works that integrated native motifs and themes within modernist frameworks, resulting in jewelry that immediately resonated with foreign customers searching for newness. 

From Spratling’s studio, Taller de las Delicias, emerged an incredible array of highly innovative designs, some only in pure silver, others with semiprecious gems such as indigenous turquoise, amethyst, chalcedony, coral, and tortoiseshell. His hollowware items included elegant tabletop pieces such as flatware, serving pieces, and elaborate tea and coffee services in silver and rosewood.

Soon major stores throughout the United States wanted to stock Taxco jewelry: Marshall Field’s, Tiffany & Co., Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Neiman Marcus.

At top, William Spratling’s Taller de las Delicias was a destination for well-heeled American tourists. Below, an example of Spratling’s tableware, now highly coveted.

Spratling was highly influenced by Mexican art and history, and it is this which pushed Taxco’s jewelers to create increasingly sophisticated designs. What collector’s seek out are the pieces that are both streamline moderne, but with distinctive Aztec and Pre-Columbian motifs integrated into the design.

 With the onset of World War II, fewer and fewer luxury goods were coming into the U.S. from Europe and this included jewelry. Taxco jewelry became a sensation for American women who were mesmerized by the creativity coming out of this Mexican town. 

It wasn’t long before some of his craftsmen were ready to go out on their own: Antonio Castillo, Hector Aguilar, and Antonio Piñeda became just as famous as Spratling, with jewelry and tabletop dining pieces that were bold and often whimsical. 

At top: William Spratling mentored numerous craftsmen who went on to open their own workshops. Antonio Piñeda, who’s work is seen here, was an undeniable star. He opened  Los Castillo and eventually employing 100 artisans. (Photo at top, Courtesy; middle, Daniel Herscovici.)

 In fact in 1944, the prestigious San Francisco retailer Gump’s was the first to carry Taxco jewelry after seeing Antonio Piñeda’s work in an exhibition. They purchased 160 pieces to retail in their Post Street store, which helped to further elevate the image of Mexican craftsmanship. 

 Soon major stores throughout the United States wanted to stock Taxco jewelry: Marshall Field’s, Tiffany & Co., Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Neiman Marcus. 

A toucan-themed pitcher by Hector Aguilar.

Another star of Taxco became so famous, her name became synonymous with the city. Margot Van Voorhies Carr, an artist in San Francisco, went to Mexico in 1937 and became fascinated by the possibilities of silver jewelry design. She ended up marrying Antonio Castillo and together they established their own workshop called Los Castillos. She became known as “Margot de Taxco.” 

Margot de Taxco’s enameled jewelry was an instant success  and continued throughout her lifetime. Today, her pieces can sell for thousands of dollars at auction.

Today, Margot’s work is perhaps the most widely known and collected after Spratling. Drawing from JapanesePre-Columbian, and Art Deco inspirations, she created her own style featuring intricate enamelwork known as champlevé.  

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera helped bring greater notoriety to Taxco as both a craft center and bohemian enclave.

 By the late 1950’s, caravans of movie stars on holiday would make their way from Mexico City to Acapulco with a stop in Taxco to buy jewelry: John Wayne, Lana Turner, Bette Davis, and Marilyn Monroe.  

It was Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo who introduced Spratling to Taxco.Here, Kahlo’s favorite necklace made of silver, enamel, turquoise and coral with hinged compartment, made by Matilde Poulat c.1950. Museo Frida Kahlo. Photograph Javier Hinojosa. © Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo Archives.

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo was already very famous both for her art and her penchant for bold statement jewelry. She and Diego Rivera helped bring greater notoriety to Taxco as both a craft center and bohemian enclave. 

A collection of vintage Taxco jewelry being prepared for sale on

Today, Taxco is still a center for silver jewelry but there are few design stars making it a destination, and some complain it has lost its allure. Nevertheless, there are descendants of craftspeople from Los Castillo, Margot de Taxco, and William Spratlingworkshops who are working with many of the same dies and molds, replicating designs that are over 100 years old. 

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