Gemstones of the Mexican Riviera
Discover the unique and native gemological finds (from Chiapas amber to fire opal and agate) found south of the border
By Clare Emmett
The Mexican Riviera stretches for more than 990 miles along the coast of Mexico, from Baja California all the way to the ancient state of Oaxaca. It’s not hard to see why this area has become a legendary destination for lovers of ocean travel. Cities and lagoons are strung along the coast like jewels on a necklace, against the backdrop of the majestic Sierra Madre Mountains. The Mexican Riviera offers some of the world’s most breathtaking land and seascapes.
The same unique geology and powerful natural forces that give this coastline its beauty are responsible for other wonders. This part of the world is famed as the source for an astonishing variety of rare and enchanting precious stones: agate and turquoise; jasper and obsidian; amber from the Chiapas caves and the legendary Mexican fire opal. Many of these stones are unusual and some unique to deposits in the region. They are crafted into jewelry of every description.
The ports along the Mexican Riviera are home to all kinds of jewelry outlets, from market stalls selling traditional silver designs to exclusive boutiques offering fine gemstone jewelry. As well as new pieces, the Mexican Riviera is the perfect place to find vintage and antique jewelry. Jewelry-making flourished under the Maya and Aztec empires, which between them covered much of this stretch of coastline. Even after the decline of these cultures, the tradition of jewelry-making endured. Mexican jewelry enjoyed something of a resurgence in the 1920s; pieces from this period are very exciting, including concepts from world-class designers.
The beauty of turquoise has entranced people since the dawn of humanity. The Toltecs — an ancient pre-Aztec civilization — prized turquoise highly, trading it with other cultures. The Aztecs raised turquoise to an even higher status; as well as personal adornments, it was used to embellish religious artifacts. Tiles made from thin sections of turquoise were often applied to the surface of an object, sometimes covering it completely. In the Nahuatl language, turquoise was known as “teoxihuitl,” a word meaning both precious and divine. Most turquoise sold along the Mexican Riviera today is mined in the northern state of Sonora.
Turquoise is a lovely gem, ranging from palest eau-de-nil to teal and even viridian, via every imaginable tint of blue-green. Some turquoise gems display the matrix of the native rock they formed…