Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Mexican artist and patriot Frida Kahlo loved silver, as she loved all things indigenous to her country. She recognized it as the wealth of her land, and wore stone-encrusted necklaces and earrings made of the precious metal.
Mexico leads the world in silver production, and every traveler who visits the country should consider it as a souvenir. In a class of its own, Mexican silver is usually crafted by hand.
In my travels to Mexico, some of my best silver finds have occurred in the towns of Queretaro and Guanajuato, about two hours northwest of Mexico City. For between 550 pesos (US$42.50) and 1,100 pesos (US$85), you can add a chunky basket-weave bracelet to your suitcase. A pair of simple earrings—perfect as a modest gift—costs no more than 110 pesos (US$8.50).
Some of the finest silver comes from the town of Taxco, situated between Mexico City and Acapulco. There, you can see master silversmiths, such as Emilia Castillo and Sigi Pineda, at work on their latest creations in their public studios.
A pricey option in Mexico City is Tane. You’ll be hard pressed to find anything under 1,100 pesos (US$85) there, but many people regard the store as the Tiffany & Co. of Mexico. Surprising values can be found at department stores like Sanborns, Liverpool and El Palacio de Hierro. Look for pillboxes and hand mirrors with inlays of turquoise and carnelian, priced from 550 (US$42.50) to 1,100 (US$85) pesos. Boutiques such as Los Castillo and Arte en Plata of the Zona Rosa tempt collectors with antique hair combs, which cost about 550 (US$42.50) pesos, to 18th-century-style tea sets for around 55,000 pesos (US$4,254).
Years ago, a merchant at the Bázar del Sábado (the Saturday Bazaar) in Mexico City gave me a valuable lesson in Mexican silver. Here’s the short form: Buy from established shops, and check for stamps of .925 and .950 that distinguish sterling silver from the lower-quality silver plate. I take her advice along when I go shopping.
Susan Weissman’s jewelry box contains a fertility horn from Papua New Guinea, amber from the Dominican Republic and pearls from the South Seas.
Tips for Silver Care
• If you wear silver jewelry all the time, you won’t need to polish it. The skin’s chemistry prevents tarnish from forming, except in the case of individuals who are allergic to the metal.
• Wash and dry flatware and tableware thoroughly after each use. If you don’t use it daily, place it in an airtight box.
• Don’t mix silver and stainless steel in your dishwasher. The combination results in black spots on silver that are nearly impossible to remove.