Friday, March 12, 2010


The centuries old city of Chichén Itzá (chee--CHEN, eet ZAH) in Mexico contains architecture that still generates awe-inspired gasps by all who see these structures.

Three hundred sixty-five steps compose the four stairways that lead up to the incredible Pyramid of Kukulcan. The number of steps strategically corresponds to the number of days in a calendar year. Mexico is also home to featured jewelry designer Franco Varela Mendez.
Mexico is renowned as the world's second largest producer of silver, as well as being a top location for highly gifted silversmiths.

History reveals that the Spaniards passed down the art of handcrafting silver metal to Mexicans during the late 18th century. One of the jewelry-making techniques passed on by the Spaniards was filigree.

Filigree designs, however, were predominantly made with gold as the metal was considered more valuable reflecting high social status.

Nevertheless, during the 1950s, a strong demand arose for silver filigree in the international market. Subsequently, numerous workshops opened to meet the demand training roughly 100 workers in the craft over the course of four to five years.

The boom ended in the late 1960s when social security laws deemed employers pay corresponding revenue. The once bustling workshops now contained less than a dozen workers and administrators opted instead to repair and produce limited quantities of jewelry.

Today, though an arts school in Merida, Mexico teaches the craft, there are very few channels available in the country to learn this art. Along with Carlos Ramos, Mendez is integral in helping to maintain this intricate and painstaking technique alive in the country.

Mendez credits his sister, who taught him the craft, and extensive travels through the United States with helping him cultivate the skills to create this delicate, ethereal jewelry style.

Unlike some filigree designs I have seen from Thailand, Mendez appears to work with somewhat thicker silver wires providing an overall effect that resembles loosely crocheted yarn.

The jewelry pieces are very dainty and fabric-like, and accents of turquoise, jasper, and dyed cultured pearls are minimal allowing the filigree work to take center stage.
Photo 1 (top right): Sterling Silver Filigree Mandala Necklace with Black Cultured Pearls
Photo 2 (bottom left): Sterling Silver Filigree Mandala with Turquoise Drops
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