“As the stars are to the night, so are jewels to the woman.”
This was the motto of Margot Van Voorhies Carr, perhaps best known by her adopted name Margot de Taxco, an artist and silversmith recognized for her pioneering Mexican jewellery.
Not much has been recorded about Van Voorhies Carr’s early life—she was purposely vague about her origins and age—except that she was born sometime before 1920 in New Orleans to a Dutch father and French mother. A move to San Francisco followed shortly thereafter. Sources suggest that her father either died or walked out on the family when Van Voorhies Carr was young. Tragedy struck again when Van Voorhies Carr’s mother was murdered during a burglary, leaving Van Voorhies Carr to fend for herself. Making a living as a hairdresser, she married Dr. Evans Carr, a dentist, but the marriage was not a happy one, and the couple soon divorced.
A trip to Mexico City in 1937 led Van Voorhies Carr to Taxco, a city located about 170 km southwest of the capital. It was there that she met Antonio Castillo, who would become her second husband. The town of Taxco has long been associated with the extraction and working of silver. Silver mining in the area dates back to the pre-contact era, with indigenous communities using the ore for ritual and decorative purposes. By the time she arrived, Taxco was known for being a hive of creativity for artists and artisans alike, with an emphasis on jewellery design.
At the time, Castillo worked for William Spratling, a pioneer in Mexican silversmithing. Castillo encouraged Van Voorhies Carr to design jewellery, which he would then produce in the evenings after his regular workday. While Van Voorhies Carr had no formal training, she would draw her designs on paper for her husband to interpret into 3D pieces. Her jewellery was well received, and in 1939 the couple, along with members of Castillo’s family, decided to open their own workshop under the name of “Los Castillo.”
At Los Castillo, Van Voorhies Carr worked as the head designer, aided by expert silversmiths. It was during this period that she perfected the champlevé technique of enamelling silver that would become one of her artistic signatures.
By 1948, both Van Voorhies Carr and Castillo’s marriage and professional relationship came to an end. Proceeds from the sale of the couple’s marital home allowed Van Voorhies Carr to open her own workshop (known in Mexico as a taller) under the name Margot de Taxco. Van Voorhies Carr and her taller were recognized for their diverse offerings, and at its height employed more than 30 artisans, some of whom had followed her from Los Castillo.
Van Voorhies Carr found inspiration in a myriad of sources including Japanese art, flowers, Mexican architecture, and in Pre-Columbian motifs, which she saw reflected in the Art Deco aesthetic. She sourced shapes and motifs for her jewellery everywhere, carefully instructing her employees on how to render her visions into wearable art.
In a time when many jewellery ateliers were run by men, Van Voorhies Carr and her designs stood out. Upon discovering that her male silversmiths were using their own wrists to mold bracelets, she had a wooden maquette of a woman’s wrist made to ensure that her designs sat properly upon a female wrist. Celebrities took note of the elegant and supremely wearable designs, and Margot de Taxco counted Lana Turner, John Wayne, Jack Palance and John Derek as fans.
By 1960, Van Voorhies Carr’s fortunes began to shift, with a major fire in her workshop forcing a move to a less desirable location. In 1973 she downsized the business again. By then, her workers had unionized, and conflict between management and staff arose. Silversmiths began to leave the company, and Van Voorhies Carr was forced to pay large severance fees. Margot de Taxco slipped towards bankruptcy, and the local government and labour authority assumed control of the business in 1974, selling it off to pay its workers.
Van Voorhies Carr was forced to give the molds for her jewellery designs to her silversmiths in lieu of payment. Though no doubt a difficult moment, it is through this act that her designs live on today, as several Taxco silversmiths continue to use these molds to produce jewellery.
The end of Van Voorhies Carr’s life was spent relying on the generosity of friends. She never quite recovered from a serious fall in April of 1985, and died a few months later in July of that year.
Van Voorhies Carr produced many unique jewellery sets, including lot 10 in our Silver & Costume Jewellery and Luxury Accessories auction, a sterling silver four-piece suite representative of Margot de Taxco’s signature enamelled style. The set is comprised of a bracelet, a necklace and a pair of screw-back earrings, all decorated with blue enamel and suspending oval drops. Known for its elegance, femininity and innovative forms, Margot de Taxco jewellery represents one woman’s pioneering creativity, as well as a dynamic moment in the history of Mexican silver.
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