Have you seen Taxco stamped on a piece of vintage or even new sterling silver jewellery, or mentioned online and wondered what it is? We get asked this question all the time so you’ve come to the right place to find out more.
You’ll find ‘Taxco’ and ‘Taxco Silver’ mentioned across our website and on our item pages and with good reason. Taxco is a small city in Mexico located in the highlands of the state of Guerrero between Mexico City and Acapulco.
This unassuming city in the Mexican mountains is famous for producing some of the finest handmade silver jewellery in the world and is often referred to as ‘the silver capital of the world’. It’s no small wonder then that our very own brand name The Mexican Collection is inspired by the beauty of the jewellery we commission and import from Mexico.
Today, Taxco is a popular tourist destination, attracting visitors from all over the world who come to see its beautiful colonial architecture, browse its markets for silver jewellery and other crafts, and enjoy the local cuisine and cultural events.
While our North American customers are very familiar with Taxco and the long history of silversmithing that grew from humble beginnings in this most colonial of Mexican cities, little is known on this side of the Atlantic of this amazingly creative place.
The Appeal of Taxco
Taxco (pronounced Tas-co) is located high in the alti-plano of Guerrero surrounded by rolling mountains on all sides.
As a tourist destination Taxco had its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s when it was a welcome respite on the long drive from Mexico City to go loco in the resort of Acapulco.
The autopista del sol now diverts much of that traffic away from Taxco and the town nowadays attracts a different clientele.
At the weekend urbanites from Mexico City mingle with expatriates and tourists in an eclectic blend of languages and styles.
Local Taxequenos ply their trade alongside indigenous Nahuatl selling handmade ceramics, beads, gemstones, wooden decorations and no end of homewares and costume jewellery in a riot of colour on street corners and under the shade in Plaza Borda.
The focal point of downtown Taxco is Plaza Borda that is the heart of business and tourism in Taxco. The plaza is dominated by the Santa Prisca church, an imposing structure that towers over the square and offers one of the finest examples of Mexican Baroque architecture anywhere in the country.
Its ornate façade and lavish gold leaf interior celebrate the association of its founder, Jose de La Borda, with the silver trade.
Jose De La Borda was one of the most prosperous mine owners in the region during the 18th century and made his fortune from the mines surrounding the city.
On commissioning the church Jose De La Borda famously said 'what God gives to Borda, Borda gives to God'. The church took over 15 years to construct and almost bankrupted the La Borda family.
In contemporary Taxco many artisans, traders and crafts people go to the church daily to pray for good fortune in sales or to give thanks for luck they have had in trade. The church remains an endearing symbol to the power of belief and the good fortune that silver has brought to the people of Taxco.
Steeped in a rich colonial history, in the past Taxco de Alarcon (to give it its official name) was famous for its production of silver mined from the surrounding hills.
While the mines have long since closed the tradition of jewellery making that sprung up around it lives on and Taxco has become synonymous all over the world with expert craftsmanship in jewellery design and creation.
As well as its association with silversmithing and the jewellery trade Taxco also attracts visitors for its fine colonial architecture.
The historic centre is well-preserved, with many buildings dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries. The city’s narrow, winding streets, white-washed buildings, and red-tile roofs create a charming, old-world ambiance that has rightly earned it the title of ‘el pueblo magico’ and in certain parts of Taxco it certainly feels as though you are magically stepping back in time.
In addition Taxco is host to many cultural events throughout the year, including its famous ‘Semana Santa’ Easter celebrations marked by the silent procession and the re-enactment of the Passion of Christ. The city also hosts a silver fair in November which attracts silver artisans from all over Mexico to compete.
Taxco sits on the side of a mountain, with ranchos and haciendas perched precariously on the edges of the city. Vochos (VW Beetles) are the vehicle of choice for navigating the small winding streets originally designed for horses and that now struggle to accommodate modern cars.
Taxco is surrounded by lush vegetation and the terrain also lends itself to many outdoor activities including hiking and horseback riding.
So how did such a small provincial town in the middle of a vast rolling landscape become a city famous for jewellery design and innovation? For the answer we have to look back to the founding of Taxco in the pre-Columbian era of Mexican history.
Where it started
Taxco itself was founded around 1522 after the conquest of the Aztec Empire by the Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes. After defeating the Aztecs Cortes and his soldiers continued to explore and conquer new areas in Mexico in the name of the Spanish empire. As part of this expansion Cortes sent his lieutenant, Diego de Ordaz, to explore the mountainous region of Guerrero.
It is said that the seams of silver were so rich and plentiful in the ridges around Taxco that as Ordaz rode through the area the hoof of his horse struck a seam of silver right on the path they were travelling.
Before the arrival of Diego de Ordaz the Aztecs had also extracted silver from the mountains of Guerrero to fashion into gifts for their gods, however the arrival of the Spaniards saw silver production increase to industrial levels.
Hernan Cortes soon established a silver mining operation in the area and the mines of Taxco proved so lucrative that they funded much of the expansion of the Spanish empire in the Americas.
Cortes himself visited Taxco several times during his lifetime, and he is said to have been impressed by the beauty of the town and the skill of its artisans.
It is undeniable that the discovery of silver in Taxco by the Spanish played a significant role in the economic and cultural development of the region and it became one of the most important silver mining areas in Mexico during the colonial period.
While almost all of the precious metal that was mined during this period was exported, it wasn’t until the arrival of an American in the 1930s that Mexican artisans began to enjoy the benefit of the bounty beneath their feet.
The legacy of William Spratling
No compendium of Taxco would be complete without the mention of William Spratling, an American architect, teacher and jewellery design. Before his arrival in Taxco in the 1930s the little jewellery design that was being done in Taxco was of a classical style with limited appeal. The seam that the Conquistadores had mined had long been exhausted and the jewellery trade in Taxco was dwindling. The arrival of William Spratling would soon change all of that.
William Spratling was born in New York City, but he spent most of his life in Mexico, where he first arrived in the 1920s.
Mexico as a country was going through a period of renewal after the decades long revolution had finally come to an end. Artists such as Diego Rivera, Juan Gorman and Frida Kahlo were at the forefront of an artistic movement that embraced and celebrated the indigenous and native aspects of Mexican culture.
William Spratling became involved in this fledgling artistic movement and was inspired to travel to Taxco to develop a trade that would provide a benefit to the local communities.
William Spratling established a small silver workshop in Taxco and recruited local apprentices to produce the silver designs he created. He named it Taller de Las Delicias. Armed with an in-depth knowledge of Pre-Columbian and Mesoamerican art from his years at university, William Spratling’s designed were heavily influenced by motifs and symbols of the indigenous Nahuatl and Aztec tribes.
From the beginning he trained his apprentices to focus on attention to detail and to only use the finest quality materials.
The early pieces of jewellery and silverware that were produced in the Taller were wildly successful and heralded the beginning of a new age in jewellery design in Mexico. The revolution had ended and the time was ripe for an awakening of the celebration of Mexican heritage.
In addition to his work as a silversmith, Spratling was also an accomplished writer and teacher. He wrote several books about Mexican art and culture and helped to establish a school of art in Taxco that trained many talented artists and silversmiths.
Today, Spratling is remembered as a key figure in the history of Mexican silver and as an important contributor to the development of modern Mexican art and design. He is still fondly referred to as the ‘Father of Mexican Silver’ and his work continues to be highly prized by collectors and art enthusiasts around the world.
In Taxco he is remembered with a museum in his honour. The Museo Guillermo Spratling offers some insight into the life and work of William Spratling. Replicas of some of his most famous pieces of jewellery are also on display.
The adventurous can visit his ranch on the outskirts of Taxco where not much has changed since his death in 1967. The showroom at the ranch displays replicas of the highly original designs produced in the workshop there.
In its heyday the Spratling Ranch played host to film stars and artists alike and still retains much of its old world appeal.
While William Spratling’s legacy has cast a long shadow over jewellery design in Taxco many of the apprentices who passed through his workshops went on to develop their own distinctive jewellery styles and many launched their own brands and workshops.
It’s easy to see the influence of William Spratling in the pre-hispanic designs of Salvador Teran. Or marvel at boldness of the muscular designs of Antonio Pineda, or the jewellery of Hector Aguilar inspired by the cactus and nopal plants of Mexico.
In modern Taxco the offspring of the apprentices who originally worked in the Talleres of William Spratling now continue the tradition of creative jewellery making but very much in their own style.
As Carmen Tapia, the daughter of the renowned silversmith and stonemason Ezequiel Tapia says ‘my generation, compared to that of Antonio Pineda, we have to fight to have a space, one that is new’.
Her designs are organic and feminine and more wearable art than everyday jewellery.
Examples of other contemporary silversmiths who are carving their own design niche include Emilia Castillo whose father established the Los Castillo Taller and was an apprentice in the workshops of William Spratling.
Her innovative designs in ceramic and silver are highly original and creative.
While Emilia Castillo also produces what she calls the ‘bread and butter’ jewellery designs, she also creates some highly original ceramic and silver tableware and jewellery.
Her most creative work is handwrought in smaller runs that are more elaborate and time-consuming to produce but also very distinctive and hugely collectable.
Emilia Castillo is just one of many contemporary Mexican silversmiths that are carving their own place in the history of jewellery design in Mexico.
What makes Taxco silver so special?
To this day Taxco still attracts both national and international silversmiths and designers.
It is a veritable mecca for creative jewellers wanting to learn from some of the best silversmiths in the world.
While most commercial jewellery is machine made and mass produced, the jewellery from Taxco is handmade by artisans using traditional techniques that haven’t changed much over the last century.
While modern machine-made jewellery is undoubtedly efficient and fast to produce there is nothing quite like owning a piece of handmade Taxco silver jewellery.
Techniques introduced by William Spratling such as the use of ebony, rosewood and mahogany in jewellery making continue in contemporary Taxco jewellery design.
The lost wax method of jewellery production that is still common in Taxco, while time consuming, results in a solid piece of jewellery that has a heft to it and feels like no other piece of jewellery.
For a start there’s the weight of a piece of Taxco silver that is instantly recognizable.
For example, a chunky cocktail ring produced in the old school way announces itself on the finger and demands to be noticed.
That is essentially the beauty of Mexican jewellery design and production: it is distinguished by well-executed bold statement pieces that are constructed to last an age and then some. Investing in a high-end Taxco design is an investment for a lifetime.
Maintain your Mexican jewellery well and it will give you decades of enjoyment and be an absolute please to wear year after year. Taxco silver designs are constructed to last, a tradition that started in the workshops of William Spratling in the 1930s and continues to this day.
So next time you see mention of ‘Taxco silver’ or you find a piece of jewellery stamped with the word ‘TAXCO’ you will know a little of the long history of design and craftsmanship that has led this small city in the highlands of Mexico to be known as the silver capital of the world.