MEXICO CITY — Visitors to bustling Mexico City seem to find the Zona Rosa, or Pink Zone, irresistible. This neighborhood, 13 square blocks in the center of the city, boasts the finest hotels and restaurants. And the shopping is superb. The Zona Rosa is an enclave of European influence and sophistication, suggested by its street names--Londres, Hamburgo, Florencia, Genova and others. Many of these charming avenues are for pedestrians only, and are lined with delightful boutiques, shops and galleries offering an impressive variety of goods, both Mexican and foreign-made.
Best buys include clothing, all kinds of handicrafts, and jewelry. All of it is tempting, and with the peso's built-in daily devaluation, prices get better and better for buyers with American dollars. It's a good idea to shop around before buying. Quality and price vary greatly from store to store, and it's always disappointing to turn a corner and see a somewhat better version of something you've just bought--and at half the price.
You'll probably find the best selection and most attractive display of merchandise in the small tiendas , or shops. But it's a good idea to begin your browsing in the Londres Market (on Londres, between Amberes and Florencia). The marquee reads: curiosidades Mexicanas.
Rows of stalls burst with colorful embroidered sweaters, baskets, blankets, glass and ceramics, wood and leather, silver and gems, copper and brass and papier-mache. Comparison shop stalls with similar wares, and bargain to the best of your ability. It's a sporting event. But if you see something you really like, buy it on the spot. It may not wait for you while you look around.
Expect to pay about half of what you would pay for an item at home. Some examples: heavy woolen belted sweaters, $15-$35; women's embroidered dresses, $25-$40; men's formal cotton shirts, $12-$25; silver rings, $5 and up, but double-check quality; large straw carrying bags, $3-$10; silk shawls, $10; hand-beaten copper platters and bowls, $10 and up; hammocks, $18-$33; wool blankets and rugs, $10 and up; beautiful jet-black pottery from Oaxaca, $1 and up; hand-blown glass goblets, $2.50 each. The list could grow into a full catalogue of Mexican crafts.
A Hodgepodge of Quality
As for quality, the market is a hodgepodge of good and bad. With silver and gems, double check authenticity. "Jade," for example, is likely to be dyed onyx, which is mined and processed in great quantity near the Mexican city of Puebla.
Quality is assured in some of the tiendas . For silver, Mexico's finest purveyor is Tane (Amberes 70 and other locations throughout Mexico City), with fabulous contemporary and traditional jewelry, flatware ($70-$95 per item) and personal accessories. Tane specializes in reproductions of baroque objets d'art. Hand-beaten silver trays and pitchers cost about $2,200 and pitchers sell for about $1,100. Baskets in various sizes woven of silver strands range from $40 to $440, a silver and gold plate woven belt, $320. An excellent selection of chains of various weights and link-styles, $30 and up. Also look for precious gems handsomely set in gold and for silver-trimmed, butter-soft leather wallets. Tane isn't cheap, but the value is exceptional.
Down the street, Los Castillo (Amberes 41) is an old and reputable silver shop. It's headquartered in Taxco, Mexico's silver city, and specializes in melding silver, copper and brass into lovely tri-colored jewelry and tableware. Prices are somewhat lower than at Tane, especially on silver chains ($5-$200), bracelets and rings. Look for silver plate, brass or copper trays with inlaid feathers, a Los Castillo specialty beginning at $60.
Unusual Gems, Settings
For gold jewelry with unusual gems and settings, visit Flato (Amberes 21, owned by an American, Paul Flato. You'll find lovely sculptural settings of diamonds, pearls and rare coral. It's an exclusive shop; prices are high, but quality is assured.
Mexico mines opals around the city of Queretaro, and you can get exceptional buys on this fiery, varied gem. Look in at the Mexican Opal Co. (Hamburgo 208), a town-house store owned by Japanese businessmen. Good quality stones of varying colors are set in silver and gold. The shop also offers leather goods, handicrafts and woolens, almost a mini-market.
For onyx, not dyed to pass for jade but sculpted to bring out its finest qualities, stop at Muller's (Florencia 51). The owner, Guy Muller, is known as Mr. Onyx and the shop offers beautiful boxes small and large, chess sets, goblets, sculpted animals small and large, plates, bowls and platters, decorative fruit and eggs. Prices are reasonable: pendants cost $2-$4, strings of beads, $4.