No. 1: Daniel Espinosa has set his sights on America
I’m obsessed with Mexico City. From its vibrant street culture to its moody, temperate climate, everything about Mexico’s sexy capital city seduces me. I was just there a year and a half ago, when my boyfriend, Jim, and I spent his 42nd birthday admiring pre-Columbian art, drinking mezcal, and climbing pyramids. But I craved a return visit.
It seemed meant to be when I got an invite from my friends at the Luxury Brand Group to join them this past weekend on a press trip to Mexico City and the nearby city of Taxco, the dual hometowns of their newest client, the Mexican jeweler Daniel Espinosa.
Espinosa’s name is familiar across Mexico. His eponymous company operates more than 45 boutiques around the country—including locations in Acapulco, Playa del Carmen, and Mérida—where he is known for his fashion-forward and accessibly priced jewels, most of which are rightly described as statement pieces. (Espinosa is also established internationally, with boutiques in Panama, the Dominican Republic, Russia, Spain, and two new stores in Puerto Rico and San Antonio, both of which opened a year ago.)
As I’ve noted, I first met Espinosa in 2005, at a jewelry show in Madrid. He immediately impressed me with his dapper style (he’s fond of cardigans and loafers) and friendly and genuine demeanor. Over the next decade, however, I lost track of him.
I saw him again last Wednesday, when our press group of editors and bloggers—including a chatty, dressed-to-the-nines bunch from across Latin America—joined him for dinner at the elegant Beefbar, a restaurant in the Camino Real hotel, an icon of 1960s modernism built by the architect Ricardo Legorreta (after four visits to the city, it remains my favorite building).
My first reaction to seeing Espinosa again? He hasn’t aged a bit. My second: He is, and has always been, a class act. It’s evident in the way he dresses (impeccably), in the way he speaks (thoughtfully), and in the way he treats his guests (flawlessly). Herewith, seven things you need to know about the pioneering Mexican designer.
1. He lives across from Mexico’s national zoo.
“In the mornings, I hear the elephants and tigers waking up,” Espinosa told me at Beefbar, where I had the pleasure of sitting next to him.
I didn’t realize it at the time but two days later, on Friday, we would enjoy a fully catered lunch at his home overlooking the Bosque de Chapultepec, and it would be a highlight of our three-day excursion. The penthouse apartment reflects Espinosa’s many passions: silver, art, Mexican culture. The space is full of things—ornate silver serving trays, fresh flowers, coffee-table books devoted to subjects ranging from architecture to travel—yet manages to feel not the slightest bit cluttered.
A snapshot of Espinosa’s beautiful home
Plus, he puts together a killer spread. The buffet we were served included bite-size tastings of Oaxacan molé, crunchy beef tortas, and delicious ceviche sprinkled with crunchy fried crickets. Before I could change my mind about the crickets, the waiters served mugs filled with my new favorite cocktail, Amores Mezcal mixed with fresh lime and seltzer water. The critters went down nice and easy.
The last cricket
2. He comes from Taxco, the heart of Mexico’s silver manufacturing industry.
Espinosa grew up in Taxco, a colonial town that boasts a centuries-old reputation for silver mining and smithing. It is located about 100 miles (and 3.5 traffic-snarled hours) southwest of Mexico City, in the state of Guerrero.
“I was born into a jewelry family, but one that had a traditional business, just trading, without any design,” he told me.
Today, Espinosa operates a workshop in the hills overlooking Taxco that employs some 120 people (another 400 or so do work for the designer from their homes in the city). When we visited last week, I was struck by the lack of big machinery and computers; the jewelry and home decor objects in the Daniel Espinosa collection are almost entirely handmade.
A group of workers sat at wooden tables in a long, narrow room chiseling, filing, and hammering pellets of pure silver into a range of necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and rings. In another room, women polished the gold-plated designs to a shiny mirror finish. When we walked inside the stock room—filled with a rainbow array of gemstone strands—Espinosa described it as his “personal Toys R Us.”
Employees in Daniel Espinosa’s workshop in Taxco hammering away at his range of silver and 22k gold-plated home decor items
Workers in the polishing room
Espinosa in his stock room, which he describes as his “personal Toys R Us”
3. JCK Las Vegas played a key role in his transformation into a designer.
Espinosa joined his family business at 17, when he entered college. He spent the next three years visiting jewelry stores and studying the industry. In 1993, he attended his first JCK Las Vegas show, where he had a transformative encounter.
“I saw a designer doing some drafts of designs in his booth and I asked him, ‘What are you doing?’ and he said, ‘I’m creating the new collection.’ And I said, ‘Where did you learn that?’ He told me, ‘At the GIA.’ And I thought, what is that?’ ” Espinosa told me during a one-on-one interview in the lounge of El Palacio de Hierro, the luxury mall in the posh neighborhood of Polanco, where he maintains a beautifully appointed boutique, decorated in the same urbane style as his home.
Espinosa wasted no time after that chance encounter at JCK. He immediately enrolled in the jewelry course at GIA. Underlying his desire to establish himself in the industry was a belief in jewelry’s fundamental role in human history: “Jewelry has been a part of human beings forever,” he said. “For different reasons. For power, for beauty, for being protected, to win wars—whatever the reason, but it’s always been part of human beings. Understanding that, I learned about the different eras of jewelry design. What I had before was only the Taxco knowledge. So I started thinking about what I could do with the old Taxco way of manufacturing with a new design, a new way of seeing the jewelry. I moved to Florence [Italy] to study history and art. I fell in love with Italy in general, and then I was invited by the Dutch government to Rotterdam to study fashion.”
That was around 1995. In 1997, Espinosa launched his first collection.
4. Cubes are his signature.
Espinosa’s first line was simple, linear, and geometric: sterling silver cubes—in necklace and earring form—with a chic matte finish. But at first, the Spanish market proved to be more successful than his native Mexico. “Latin tastes—we like more baroque,” he explained.
The cubes caught on with his Mexican clients once he expanded the collection and coupled it with 22k gold plate, around 15 years ago. “We started pushing the trend from silver to combination and then the use of a lot of metal, and eventually I started working with stones,” Espinosa said.
Since then, Espinosa has expanded his oeuvre to include every conceivable color of natural gemstones, horns, silk, crystals, and other offbeat materials.
Cubes multistrand necklace in 22k gold-plated base metal; $580
5. He nearly got caught in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
On Dec. 25, 2004, Espinosa flew from Madrid to Bangkok, with the intention of carrying on to the Thai island of Phuket. When he arrived at the airport on Dec. 26, however, he was told he needed a visa for Thailand and would have to leave the country in order to get one. He decided to fly to Singapore, where he was when he learned about the tsunami. It was the first time Espinosa heard the word.
“We didn’t know what a tsunami was. Was it a bomb?” Espinosa said.
He was able to secure a Thai visa but instead of going to Phuket, he headed back to Bangkok. At a flea market in the city, he came across strands of something unusual. When he inquired about what it was, he was told recycled television screens. “And I said, ‘Oh, I love the color!’ ” he recalled. “They were white, blue, and brown, the they had only three. So I bought it and started combining these materials.”
6. He just launched a new collection of clutches inspired by the artisans of Mexico.
When our press group visited El Palacio de Hierro, we stopped in a center presentation area to admire a collection of Daniel Espinosa jewelry displayed dramatically inside bell jars. In addition to the gorgeous horn, bronze, and turquoise pendants being shown, the display included a handful of artfully decorated clutches, Espinosa’s newest endeavor. Dubbed “Esencia de Mexico,” the collection is inspired by 33 types of artisans in Mexico. New pieces will launch every 2-4 months, each paying homage to a different type of artisanry.
A number of the clutches we saw drew their inspiration from the lacquered wooden boxes of Olinalá, a village in Guerrero. Made of remarkably fragrant lináloe wood, bronze, and 22k gold, they feature flora and fauna designs and oversized metallic hardware. They are magnificent!
A Daniel Espinosa clutch inspired by the artisanry of Olinalá
Another Daniel Espinosa clutch
7. He’s coming to America.
Two decades into his career, Espinosa is finally ready to bring his signature aesthetic to the United States. A year ago, he opened a well-received store in San Antonio. But he has grand plans to partner with department stores (Saks, Neiman-Marcus) and independent jewelers and to promote his own online boutique. With a range of jewels that retail between $40 and $2,000, Espinosa’s pieces are squarely in the self-purchase sweet spot.
“For the past 10 years, we concentrated very much on our stores,” Espinosa said. “Now we want to get into the U.S. market. We really want to be very strong in the States. It’s our neighbor, so we want to do our best possible work there.”
If you’re looking for someone to vouch for Espinosa, look no further than me. At our final dinner in Mexico City on Friday night, a spectacular meal at Tenampa, a Plaza Garibaldi institution that wins the award for world’s liveliest restaurant (check out my Instagram feed, @vikavickyvictoria, to see the night’s dueling mariachi bands), Espinosa delivered big time on the promise he made to us on our first night at Beefbar: “We’re going to show you what we consider the soul and the heart of our country.”
Take my word for it: Espinosa’s jewelry—bold, fashionable, and fun—is the perfect distillation of everything that is wonderful about Mexico. If you get a chance to visit him south of the border, say yes. But if not, his creations are the next best way to experience the warm and generous Mexican soul.