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Mark of the maker: hand-beaten silver jewellery

Wednesday, 18 October 2017 1:58:20 PM Australia/Sydney

Hand-hammered silver is a celebration of artistry

With the texture of rippling desert sands or the moonlight dancing across the ocean, the evocative beauty of hand-beaten sterling silver jewellery is enduring and universal.

At the core of its tactile appeal is the imperfect, hand-hewn element. Like nature itself, it is irresistible in the way it plays with light and beckons to be touched.

The technique of hand-beaten silver

Hammered or beaten silver is unique in the modern jewellery world. It’s crafted using techniques and skills almost entirely unchanged for generations – centuries, even.

The process is as simple as the name – and the effect – suggests. Fine, gleaming polished sterling silver is carefully, painstakingly hammered all over by hand to produce an organic texture. Every dint, dent, nick and impression is individually formed to create a one-of-kind pattern.

Because it only requires basic tools (hands, hammer, patience), it’s one of the earliest decorative styles developed by ancient metal craftspeople. Today, it manages to be as prized as ever for precisely these fundamental, handwrought qualities.

NAJO’s own artisan silversmiths in Mexico bring the age-old method to large bangles, petite earrings, spectacular collars, statement cuffs, wide rings and delicate pendants in stunning sterling silver. The shadows cast by each indentation create an optical illusion of movement and colour play. More playfully still, beaten silver covered in luxe yellow gold recalls the nourishing corn so intrinsic to Mexican life.

Hand-hammered silver in history

These beaten silver designs pay homage to the spirit of Mexico and the silversmiths working in the Grand Workshops of Taxco in the 1930s and 1940s. One such workshop was Los Castillo, who produced this beautiful hand-hammered jug with its classic Mexican style.  

While it may have ancient roots, the distinctive rustic look of hammered silver only returned to popularity in the US around the end of the 19th century. In reaction to the prevailing fashion for production-line technologies, Rhode Island-based silver manufacturer Gorham developed an exclusive collection of handwrought silver under its boutique label "Martelé" – the French word for "hammered". Martelé silver pieces were exquisite creations that embraced artisanship, proudly showing the hammer marks of the maker instead of the buffed perfection of a machine-quality finish. 

It's a sentiment as relevant as ever today, where evidence of the maker is a powerful reminder of an old-school beauty that’s so rare that it’s become new all over again. It sure does give fresh meaning to the idea of a 'maker's mark'.

Shop NAJO’s hand-beaten sterling silver jewellery now >>

Posted in Heritage By The Najo Collective

Taxco, the heart of Mexican silversmithing

Monday, 17 April 2017 4:10:00 PM Australia/Sydney

Think they don’t make things like they used to? Good news! The tradition of silversmithing is alive in Mexico.

Still made by hand, still made in Mexico

Today, NAJO’s Mexican sterling silver jewellery is still handcrafted in the workshops of Taxco, southwest of Mexico City. This is where the NAJO story began 30 years ago, and where the rich tradition of Mexican silversmithing began much earlier.

Those were the days… of Mexican silver

Taxco’s extensive silver reserves were discovered by the Spanish as early as the 16th century, although the mining town only really became world-famous as an artisan centre for silversmithing in the 1930s, when William Spratling set up what would become the first of the Grand Workshops.

Taxco’s Grand Workshops

Along with Spratling’s Las Delicias, Taxco’s grand workshops comprised Margot’s, Los Castillo and Antonio Pineda. Together, these workshops employed thousands of silversmiths in Taxco in the 1930s and 1940s and firmly established the town as a must-visit destination for jewellery enthusiasts and artistic types. By the time NAJO founder Jo Tory first visited in the 1980s, as she recalls, “just about every local family worked in silver and had workshops in their homes.”

The ‘grand’ has gone, but the skills remain

Taxco today is very different to its heyday. Workshops have reduced dramatically in both number and size. And yet the skills and knowledge passed down through generations of apprentices are still to be found by those who are willing to seek it out.

The people behind the pieces

Over the decades, NAJO has built strong personal relationships with individual Taxco silversmiths, who masterfully maintain and execute the time-honoured techniques behind some of our most popular designs.

Silversmith Jesus Hernandez handcrafts our enduring Naj ‘O’ Bangle, using the technique of die stamping. In this method, a sheet of sterling silver is pressed into a concave die so that it reproduces the shape of the die. The pieces are then hand soldered together to form the distinctive ‘O’ bangle, and hand-polished to a gleaming, bright white finish.

 Meanwhile, master silversmith Señor Melesio uses the intricate repoussé technique – along with his 68 years of experience – to handcraft our show-stopping Abanico Necklace. Repoussé involves meticulously working the metal from the back side by hand to produce a motif in low relief. For added drama, the traditional pattern is then accentuated with oxidation.

 There’s something a little magical about knowing these techniques have hardly changed over generations, and that, even today, NAJO’s made-in-Mexico jewellery continues to preserve the noble legacy of Taxco silversmiths.

Shop NAJO’s complete collection of Mexican-made sterling silver jewellery now >>

Posted in Heritage By The Najo Collective

What makes silver so ‘sterling’?

Monday, 10 April 2017 1:00:00 AM Australia/Sydney

A silver-lover’s basic guide to this far-from-base metal

Pure, luxe, lustrous silver is one of the world’s most precious materials. But just like pure gold, it is too soft on its own to fashion into modern, wearable jewellery, and needs to be alloyed with another metal for strength.

The origins of sterling

All NAJO jewellery is crafted from high-quality sterling silver, which comprises precisely 92.5% silver as denoted by the “925” stamp you’ll see on every piece. The remaining 7.5% of metal is usually copper, which adds strength without detracting from silver’s naturally spectacular shine, colour and malleability.

Many people associate the name “sterling” with the British currency, and for good reason: one Pound Sterling was once worth 240 silver pennies, or equivalent to one pound in weight of silver. The specific 92.5% ratio required for sterling silver dates all the way back to 1158, when Henry II made this the legal standard required for all British coinage. There were plenty of challenges to this standard over the ensuing centuries, but even today, 925 is the magic number for all the finest silver jewellery in the world.

Why choose sterling

Unlike other ‘silver’ coloured metals, non-sterling silver or silver-coated brass, NAJO’s collection of sterling silver is durable, highly polished, relatively lightweight and easy to wear. It’s also much brighter and whiter than other precious metals such as platinum or gold. In fact, silver’s chemical symbol, Ag, comes from its Latin name “argentum” from the Greek argós, which literally means “shining white, bright, glistening”.

Where does silver come from?

Mexico has long been the world’s largest silver-producing country, and given NAJO’s deep roots there, it’ll come as little surprise that some of our finest sterling silver is still sourced in Mexico. Today, NAJO carries fine sterling silver pieces sourced from all over the world. Did you know that Australia is also naturally rich in silver? BHP Billiton’s Cannington Mine in north-west Queensland is the world’s largest single source of silver.

Sterling silver & TLC

Yes, all sterling silver tarnishes, especially when exposed to salt air, humidity and sulphur – found in rubber bands and some paper. The best prevention for tarnish is to wear your sterling silver jewellery regularly (although not while swimming, showering or cleaning), and to store it carefully the rest of the time. A dry, soft-lined jewellery box is ideal, and if your climate is humid, a small sachet of silica gel crystals can also help.

A lot of NAJO sterling silver is anti-tarnished to help prevent oxidation and add to the metal’s naturally bright and glossy appearance. To clean your jewellery, wipe it over with a soft silver polishing cloth or try a silver polish or foam, but avoid using silver dip.

Shop NAJO’s extensive range of beautiful quality sterling silver jewellery now >>

Posted in Heritage By The Najo Collective