One of the most common questions I get as a vintage Mexican silver jewelry dealer is "how can you tell when this piece was made?". Even though to people who have just started being interested in this type of jewelry it can be pretty confusing to try to assess a piece's age, once you have learned the basics of Mexican hallmarking, dating is a rather easy and pretty straigthforward process. I would say it's a fun endeavor as well!
There are three basic periods of hallmarking related to 20th c. Mexican silver jewelry production:
a. early 20th c. - 1948: this is very often referred to as the "golden age" of Mexican silversmithing; designers/silversmiths like William Spratling, Fred Davis, Los Castillo, Hector Aguilar, Margot de Taxco, Matilde Poulat and in general most of the "big names" helped start and/or contributed to the revival of the art of working with silver by re-introducing pre-Colombian motifs and techniques that had been lost during the country's colonial period.
During this period there was no official hallmarking system in Mexico that would mandate a specific way of denoting silver content, maker and place of production. Though a lot of the best known silversmiths did establish their own ways of hallmarking and signed their pieces, many others - often referred to as "second tier" makers - either didn't sign at all or if they did, still remain unidentified today.
b. 1948 to 1980: this period is ushered in by the Mexican government's conscious effort to control the quality and taxing of silver production in the country by introducing a national system of hallmarking and control. Motivated partly by the infractions that booming silver demand caused in the years around WWII (Mexico's silver exports to the U.S. and to a lesser extent to Europe surged lowering the quality of items produced) and also by the need for income the Mexican government established what is today referred to as the "Eagle Assay mark" system in collaboration with the National Syndicate of Silversmiths. Starting in 1948 each taller or independent producer of silver items had to register with the Assay Office and be assigned an Eagle Assay mark with a specific number. Though there are Eagle numbers that were associated with only one or two individuals, the same Eagle number was usually assigned to multiple silversmiths.
The Eagle marks were supposed to guarantee that a piece of silver was at least of sterling quality (that is, it had a purity of 925/1000). However, some times even .900 silver was stamped in a similar way while it is also known that certain makers used higher alloys of silver despite the fact that they stamped their pieces as sterling.
In addition to the Eagle mark, generic hallmarks were also used during this period to denote maker, place of production, design number, silver content, etc..
c. post-1980: since no system of hallmarking and control is fraud-proof, by 1980 the Mexican government was already using a different way of marking silver. The new method required that all tallers, independent producers or designers be registered (again!) with the Assay Office and assigned a special code comprised of letters and numbers. The first letter in the code indicates the location at which the specific maker lives and works, the second is usually the first letter of this person's last name and the number that follows just shows that this was, for example, the 54th person to register in that location. So in this system a mark like "TM-28" would suggest that a piece was made in Taxco (for "T") by somebody whose name starts with an "M", and was the 28th silversmith to register with the Assay Office there.
Recently I have noticed all the more examples of Mexican jewelry offered on Ebay that are marked simply "MEXICO" and "925", without even a registration code. I think that this is another phase in the history of Mexican hallmarking showing how impersonal modern jewelry production is becoming in Mexico with almost all of the old talleres defunct and the bulk of the work being done for major export companies on a "putting out" basis that accounts for unimaginative designs, produced and paid for by the pound without any individuality nor any air of creativity.
Vintage MEXICAN Silver BRACELET Sculptural HEAVY pre Colombian Motif TAXCO
Buy It Now