Famed for its ‘heart of silver’, the beautiful pink stone colonial city of Zacatecas made its fortune from the mines deep below the surrounding windswept plains, and silver still pulses through its veins.
Once the biggest silver producer in the Americas, Zacatecas' vast mining riches funded its glorious baroque churches and plazas, where crowds now gather for the weekly callejoneadas that follow bands around the alleyways, stopping to dance and knock back mezcal carried by donkey.
While the thriving city no longer depends on the silver industry, a small number of silversmiths such as Tomas Mariscal are still using locally mined metal to create high-quality, unique pieces of jewellery using traditional techniques.
“There’s nothing I don’t like about this job, each time you finish one piece you start again on something new,” said Mariscal in his workshop in the city’s silversmiths centre, housed in a sprawling old hacienda.
“Each piece is always a reference for the next, it’s like being an author."
A LIFE IN A DAY
Mariscal, 43, who makes Amano’s Grace bracelet, spent nine years training to be a silversmith in Zacatecas, which is a UNESCO World Heritage city some 630 kms north of the capital.
Working by hand, he spends an entire day making each Grace bracelet which is crafted from almost 100 intricately linked loops of sterling silver and finished with a smooth, heavy barrel clasp.
Despite his confessed snake phobia, Mariscal says his design, made from 33 grams of .925 silver, is inspired by the vertebrae of a viper and the multiple links help give it fluidity and life.
Admitting he became one of the initial students to join Zacatecas’ first silversmiths school simply because he needed to find a job, Mariscal says he has fallen in love with the trade and never stopped learning.
The silver used by Mariscal in Amano’s Grace bracelet comes from the Fresnillo mine just outside the city. Nearly half the silver mined each year by Mexico, the world’s biggest producer of the metal, is dug out the ground deep below the surface of Zacatecas state.
These days, Zacatecas city’s old El Eden mine is a tourist attraction for visitors who put on helmets and rattle underground on a tiny train to listen to tales of the brutality the Spanish conquerors inflicted on indigenous slaves, forced to work to their deaths in the tunnels.
At weekends, the El Mina club rocks the mine 320 metres below the city, while above ground drinkers pack the hip bars and families throng the streets of Zacatecas, whose baroque buildings are artfully illuminated.
While the wealthy colonial silver barons that once strutted the Zacatecas' cobblestoned streets have long been consigned to history, the graceful city they built has been immaculately preserved. and thanks to artisans such as Mariscal, so has the silversmithing industry