This is all Kathi Jo’s fault. Kathi Jo, you may recall, is a dealer who knows more about Mexican silver jewelry than practically anyone, and I have bought many a piece from her—how many I’m not prepared to say. She knows every version of every hallmark; she can tell you whether a piece is authentic and how rare it is (or isn’t). I’ve learned a ton from her. (Here’s a link to her website, an education in itself.)
One day last November, Kathi Jo sent me an email with the heading ‘Go get it!’ What I was supposed to ‘go get’ was a Mexican silver bracelet with three rows of interlocked links shaped like bricks. It was for sale on the website Ruby Lane: simple, striking, and best of all, not expensive. The hallmarks—’Silver’ and ‘Mexico’—meant it had been made before 1948 in one of the many small studios that riffed on the work of more famous designers. So it was never going to fetch a high price. But it was fabulous.
How did Kathi Jo know I needed this particular distraction? I got her email as I was on my way to Delaware to attend the funeral of my much-loved Aunt Hennie, who had died the day before at 94. I will confess to you that I bought the bracelet while sitting in a car at the cemetery. Right after the service. With dirt on my hands. All I can say is that it seemed appropriate at the time.
The bracelet, above, arrived two days later. I loved its sculptural links, it’s fluidity, it’s there-ness. The bricks are hollow, so while the piece weighed 60 grams, it didn’t feel heavy. But as you can see, it was too long for me, and this created a problem. The bracelet has a hidden closure that makes it look continuous. The link at one end has a hook cut into it, below left, that fits onto the link at the other end, below right.
If this bracelet is too long for its wearer, it can fold over on itself, unhook, and pop off inconveniently. Kathi Jo said her silversmith could shorten it by removing a link—all the links are the same, and the hook can fit over any of them. But that would have left the bracelet too short and tight. It’s supposed to drape a bit.
I brooded. My local jeweler told me that a safety chain or clasp would not work with this design. So I was damned if I shortened it and damned if I didn’t. I showed the bracelet to my friend Iris. She was crazy about it, and it fit her perfectly. She dubbed it ‘Mickey Bricks’ after a con-artist character on the British TV show Hustle.
I brooded some more. Clearly the bracelet was meant for Iris, but I loved it. And it’s not a design you see often. But the Mexican-silver gods were kind to me: an identical bracelet came up for sale on Etsy. This one was half an inch longer than the first—long enough for me to be able to remove a link and have it fit me properly.
As you can see from the photo above, the bracelets are the same. The hallmarks were the same. But the longer one had some how stretched out over time. Or—since these things were made by hand—perhaps the silversmith had made it longer by placing the connecting pins at different points. Either way, I got my Mickey Bricks and Iris got hers.
This type of link—technically, it’s called a panther link—is not unique to Mexican jewelry. But the Mexican versions, especially the old ones, have a marvelous heft. My two bracelets may have been inspired by William Spratling’s brick-link bracelet at right, a classic I’d buy in a heartbeat if I could find one short enough to fit me. (Spratling’s design is more complex and has a different clasp; shortening it is not advisable.)
This is not the end of the story, because of course I became obsessed with this type of link, the hunkier the better. In my search for a gold French tank bracelet, which I wrote about here, I seriously considered a number of panther-link bracelets, including the one below. Heavy gold bracelets, I need not add, cost a lot more than heavy silver ones.
I realized I already owned a watch with a panther-link bracelet: a men’s Baume & Mercier in stainless steel I bought twenty years ago, left. I started wearing it again, loving the weight of it.
But it took Kathi Jo to find me the bricky bracelet of my dreams—one that doesn’t actually have bricky links. It’s a rare design from the 1940s by Héctor Aguilar, the silver master whose fluid-yet-substantial designs I swooned over in a recent post.
Aguilar’s Pyramids bracelet, below, is 85 grams of joy. It has beveled square elements alternating with round ones, which function as ingenious hinges. The high silver content (940 parts per thousand, higher than sterling) gives it a luminous whiteness. This bracelet has not been polished, but it glows.
I’m swooning again. But somehow the older I get, the more I want something bold and massive on my wrist. Bold, massive—and ladylike.