Keeping the Mexican Silversmith Tradition Alive

Mesoamerican Metallurgy

Creating Vogt silver in Mexico.

The spirit of silversmithing lives in Old Mexico.

Mexico is rich with natural metal deposits. Metallurgy in the region dates back to the Mesoamerican era. Archeologists have discovered incredibly intricate vessels and ornamentation made of gold, silver, copper, and other metals from this period. Silver was not, however, a particularly prized metal in Mexico during this time. 

That changed when Spanish conquistadors arrived on the continent in search of silver and gold. In 1522, famed explorer Hernán Cortéz found silver in Taxco, Mexico. According to lore, Moctezuma II presented Cortéz with a gift upon his arrival: A golden disc representing the sun, and a silver disc to symbolize the moon.

In Search of Silver: Spanish Conquistadors & the Colonial Era

Conquistadors by Frederick Remington

Depiction of Spanish conquistadors by Frederick Remington.

Spanish explorers held silver in high regard, desiring the metal for jewelry and as ornamentation for their horses. They brought new methods for metalworking with them. While other forms of metalwork in Mexico were subject to harsh restrictions from Spain—both to protect the interests of Spanish metal guilds and to prevent the creation of weapons in the wake of the Aztec conquest—silverworking was the exception.

Once silver from Mexico became an important trade commodity with Asia in the 16th century, Mexican silver guilds steadily gained power and influence. As the 17th century dawned, Mexico had become known all over the world as the home of fine silverwork. Over the years, Mexican silversmithing took on a distinct flair unique to the region.

Continuing the Tradition

Rancheros, 1852.

Although Mexican silver production reached its peak during this colonial era, Mexico remains the world’s leading producer of silver. However, many are concerned that this timeless art is in danger of being lost to history. In 1926, a rebirth of interest in silver craft followed the opening of a connective highway from Mexico City to Taxco, when an architecture professor from the United States named William Spratling played a key role in reestablishing the Mexican silver industry. Spratling relocated to Taxco, learned about the mining history of the region, and began designing silver and opening specialized workshops. Many of his native apprentices went on to create thriving businesses of their own.

Today, Taxco is designated a Pueblo Mágico by the Mexican government for its role in silver mining, production, and history. The city is also home to the William Spratling Museum, which contains nearly 300 archeological pieces from Mesoamerica as well as a permanent exhibit honoring the silverwork designs and workshops Spratling created. Every second year, the Mexican government awards accomplished silversmiths in Mexico with the Hugo Salinas Price National Silver Prize as part of a national effort to honor and encourage the rich, historic art of Mexican silverwork.

Vogt Silversmiths Honors the Legacy of Mexican Silverwork

Vogt Silversmiths silver shop in Mexico

Silver art crafted in Mexico today by Vogt Silversmiths.

In the mid-1960s, Northern California rancher Norm Vogt traveled to Mexico with his wife on vacation. While there, he encountered a group of artisans practicing silver and leatherwork using Old World techniques. He fell in love with the art and wanted to help preserve the lifestyle and legacy of these craftsmen.

As a result, in 1970, Vogt Silversmiths was born. Norm started the business with his son Chet, who managed daily operations while Norm traveled the country in his motorhome as a salesman for the fledging company. Vogt soon became known as the name of quality in Western silver and leather products, leading the industry in unique and beautiful designs using time-honored techniques and quality materials.

Today, Vogt Silversmiths owns and operates a silver shop and a leather shop in Old Mexico, employing local craftsmen who continue to carry on these ancient art forms, creating heirloom quality pieces and preserving timeless arts for a new generation.

Leave a comment