Bling & Things:
"Antique", "Vintage", Contemporary Costume Jewelry, Mexican Silver


by Susan Klein Bagdade
    ©2010


DID YOU KNOW:

That the definition of "antique" denotes 100 years, while the definition of "vintage" denotes age of 25 years or more. This September, I will hit the mid-century mark. Yes, I will be turning 50. While I'm not yet an antique, much of my personal jewelry and accessories have definitely become "vintage". Not just the vintage jewelry and handbags that I have purposefully collected over the years as "vintage", but the contemporary pieces that I bought for myself in the 1970s and 80s. These are the pieces that are now "retro" and are actually stylish again because I have kept them for over 25 years.

What I collect, the mid-century plastics, are not even from my own era, as I was born in 1960. Most of my collection dates from the late 1940s through the 1950s. As a child, my first jewelry memory was playing with my mother's pop-it beads. Back in high school, I dutifully enjoyed and wore all the jewelry fads of the 1970s: the puka shell necklaces, the stick pins and the ever-popular mood ring. In the 1980s, my jewelry was as big as my hair. Today I rarely buy contemporary jewelry as I prefer to collect 'vintage'. The vintage of the 1940s and 50s, that is. My personal 'vintage' pieces make me nostalgic, however. They bring me back to that carefree time of high school and college where spending a few bucks on a flashy piece of costume jewelry was the perfect accessory for the big dance. Today, these pieces are relics that capture the spirit of the age of that time in history and they are my history.

I'm not just turning 50, I'm "Mid-Century" and back in style!



The author, now officially "Mid-Century" (I liked my jewelry and accessories back then, too!).

 

The mod plastic watch I nearly lost in an airport bathroom when I was 12. Thank goodness my mother went back to look and found it still sitting on the sink!

 

The bracelet I wore to my junior prom & my favorite trendy stick-pin from high school.

 

Giant jewelry I wore and loved in the 1980s.

 

Exquisite costume jeweley works of art by Bill Schiffer. His works are one of a kind creations or are in limited editions of never more than 35 pieces. His work can be found for sale at www.billschiffer.com or www.sallyhawkinsgallery.com
Photographs, courtesy Bill Schiffer.

QUESTION:

My question involves contemporary costume jewelry. I like the work of contemporary artisan costume jewelers like Bill Schiffer and Glen Yank, but will their jewelry hold its value in the future? How about more contemporary commercial costume jewelers like Betsey Johnson? I'm curious as to your thoughts on this. Thanks. From: O.M., West Palm Beach, FL
ANSWER:

If only we had a crystal ball! Certainly, jewelry fashions go in and out of style, but well-made and well-designed pieces should withstand the 'test of time'. Both Schiffer and Yank are trained artists, so their jewelry is classically fashionable and unique. The jewelry by Schiffer and Yank is also more of a boutique venture. Betsey Johnson costume jewelry is commercially produced and available in major department stores. Betsey Johnson jewelry, however, is fabulously 'out there' and quite different compared to what others are presently designing. The earrings can be famously asymmetrical and the jewelry itself can be large, with unexpected combinations of dangles, charms and rhinestones - definitely eye-catching. Not everyone may find this dramatic jewelry appealing, but it is absolutely distinctive. My personal feeling is that due to its individuality in the marketplace, it will hold its value. Only time will tell!.

 

Spectacular machine age bracelets by Glen Yank. Photograph, courtesy Glen Yank.

 

Wonderful asymmetrical earrings by Betsey Johnson.

Betsey Johnson costume jewelry is commercially produced and available in major department stores. Betsey Johnson jewelry, however, is fabulously 'out there' and quite different compared to what others are presently designing. The earrings can be famously asymmetrical and the jewelry itself can be large, with unexpected combinations of dangles, charms and rhinestones - definitely eye-catching. Not everyone may find this dramatic jewelry appealing, but it is absolutely distinctive. My personal feeling is that due to its individuality in the marketplace, it will hold its value. Only time will tell!.

 

Mexican Silver Necklace

 

Necklace Mark

QUESTION:

I recently inherited this necklace that originally belonged to my great aunt. It's stamped "SILVER, TAXCO, 980" and weighs 2 1/8 ounces (61gm). When worn, this piece lays like a dream. It was obviously made by a skilled silversmith. Is it is possible to determine the artisan? Can you tell when it was made? Can you tell from the mark if my great aunt bought this necklace in Mexico or in the United States? Also, My necklace has a dent in it. I know caution is needed when one wants to remove "imperfections" from a piece such as this. Should I banish the thought of removing the dent and the minor scratches? Additionally, I'd like to know if it's possible to acquire pieces with this craftsmanship and quality today, where I might acquire them and at what approximate cost? From: S.G.S., Washington, D.C.
ANSWER:

I have asked Dr. Penny Morrill her thoughts about your necklace. Dr. Morrill is a renowned authority and the author of several books on Modern Mexican Silver. Dr. Morrill writes, "There is no way to know who the maker was from the marks on this necklace. However, that does not mean the necklace is without value. The piece is of almost pure silver - 980 out of 1000 parts silver. The marks indicate that it is early, meaning the piece was produced by a silversmith in Taxco in c. 1937 to 1947, the year that the eagle stamp was instituted. [The Mexican government instituted the eagle mark for all exported sterling silver items, as a quality guarantee.] The necklace was made for the tourist trade - note that the word on the back is "silver" not "plata". There was mammoth production exported out of Taxco during WW II, and this situation drew hundreds and hundreds of silversmiths to Taxco to work in several major workshops. The necklace is handwrought and resembles Los Castillo more than Spratling in the way it is constructed and the way the parts are put together. The silversmith, who could have been employed at one of the big workshops, probably had a table in his home where he made this piece."

 

Necklace Back

Carole Berk of Carole A. Berk Ltd., also a Mexican Silver expert, author and dealer in fine Mexican Silver pieces (www.carolberk.com), says to leave the dent in the piece. "I would not repair", Berk said. Morrill adds, "The patina created by years of wear is a good sign that the piece is authentic. The owner should ask for a history of the piece. There are thugs out there right now producing fake Mexican silver, so provenience has become of the utmost importance in authenticating a piece".

Certainly there are numerous artisan, Mexican silversmiths working today. There is also a great range of contemporary product available, from designer quality pieces to the touristy pieces one might buy off the street in Mexican resort towns like Cozumel and Ensenada. Fine pieces, old and new can be found from museum shops and reputable dealers both here and abroad. Prices, of course, will vary greatly depending on artisan, silver weight, scale and design of the piece. Contemporary Mexican silver and vintage Mexican silver obviously are very diverse entities. The best thing one can do is to educate oneself on authentic Mexican silver marks and the fraudulent marks that are prevalent. A couple of helpful on-line forums are the "Online Encyclopedia of Silver Marks, Hallmarks & Maker's Marks": http://www.925-1000.com and http://www.modernsilver.com (which is the website of the online Modern Silver Magazine). Collector's clubs and discussion groups like the "Silver Forum" and "Costume Jewelry Collectors International" might also be helpful venues in your search for additional information and knowledge about vintage Mexican silver.

Read more about Mexican silver jewelry:

"Mexican Silver: Modern Handwrought Jewelry & Metalwork", Penny Morrill and Carol A. Berk, Schiffer Books, 2007.

"Silver Masters of Mexico, Hector Aguilar and the Taller Borda", Penny Morrill, Schiffer Books, 1997.

"William Spratling and the Mexican Silver Renaissance: Maestros de Plata", Penny Morrill, Harry N. Abrams, 2002.

"Infatuated with Color: Margot Van Voorhies and the Art of Mexican Enamelwork," Penny Morrill, coming in Spring 2011.



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