Traditional Mexican Silver Earrings: Intricate Filigree, Antique Coins and Semi-Precious Gemstones

Elena Solow describes the Mexican silver earrings she designs as small, beautiful and useful.  “You can always justify a pair of earrings, and Mexican earrings are lovely.  They are easy to transport, they won’t break, and they take up just a tiny space in your drawer,” she says.  Elena has been traveling to Mexico since the 1960’s when she worked for Dr. Benjamin Spock during the Peace Movement.  For a time, she lived in a palm hut in Zihuatanejo and visited Oaxaca for extended periods.

I met Elena recently for the first time on the patio at Las Bugambilias Bed & Breakfast in Oaxaca, where she was visiting with Emilia Cabrera and her family who are long-time friends.  I instantly recognized Elena’s work when she pulled out her formidable stash to show me her latest designs.  It turned out that I had purchased a pair of her earrings a couple of years ago at El Nahual Gallery on Calle 5 de Mayo between Gurrion/Constitucion and Abasolo.  You can still buy her earrings there, as Alejandrina Rios, the proprietor, has fabulous taste.

The photos below are examples of the designs and the workmanship.

Silver Coin Earrings with antique glass--private collection

The earrings Elena designs are derived from very traditional Mexican images.  She goes to museums to study paintings.  She reviews picture books and goes to see old films.  She sketches the vintage jewelry worn by the women and alters them to incorporate semi-precious gemstones and vintage glass.  “I use the best pearls and select my gemstones for their quality,” she says.

Silver Squash Blossom Earrings -- private collection

Some of her earrings may remind you of the type worn by Frida Kahlo but they are not copies, Elena explains.  “They are in the same genre but I always do something different.”  For example, she will use antique silver Mexican coins or sparkling cubic zirconia or turquoise from Arizona or matched pieces of fine rutilated quartz for dangles.   She recently acquired some excellent coral and tourmaline that she bought in New York to incorporate, thus altering the traditional designs.

Mother-of-Pearl Earrings -- private collection

Solow works with two Mexican silversmiths who fabricate her patterns.  One silversmith is from central Mexico’s Mazahua tribe and the other is a Zapotec craftsman from Oaxaca.  Both create fine filigree, too.

[ If you are interested in learning how to make silver jewelry using the ancient lost wax casting technique, click HERE. We are offering three sets of workshops in January, February and March 2012 with Brigitte Huet and Ivan Campant in Oaxaca.]

Filagree bows with rutilated quartz -- private collection

“I grew up in Oklahoma and love Native American art and jewelry.  That’s how I developed a love and appreciation for Mexican art,” Elena says.  During her lifetime she has collected folk and ethnographic art from throughout Mexico, owned ethnographic folk art shops, and has bought for and sold to museums.  Her passion is textiles and jewelry, although she has an extensive mask collection and many alebrijes.  She was wandering Oaxaca’s villages years ago when well-known artists and artisans were just beginning to be recognized for their handwork.

Antique amethyst glass bead earrings -- private collection

Today, Elena Solow lives in Manhattan and travels to Oaxaca periodically.  She invites people to call her to schedule an appointment to visit.  She will be happy to show you her jewelry collection, which is offered for sale.   The examples on this page reflect the style and quality of her pieces.  Elena tells me she also has some antique gold filagree pieces for sale, too.

If you are in Oaxaca, be sure to stop by El Nahual Gallery on 5 de Mayo where her work is also available for purchase.

Silver pin with love birds and blue glass bead -- private collection

Elena does not have a web site and does not use the Internet, so it’s best to call.  If you want to see her work and what is available for purchase, let her know and her sister may be able to take photos and email them to you.

Elena Solow

465 West 23rd St. Apt. 15G

New York, NY 10011

(212) 620-7325

For a Oaxaca silver jewelry making experience, attend one of our workshops with Brigitte Huet and Ivan Campant in January, February or March 2012.

6 responses to “Traditional Mexican Silver Earrings: Intricate Filigree, Antique Coins and Semi-Precious Gemstones