Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Belting the West in silver, gold, and diamonds


By MICHAEL AMES
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Photo by Pam Francis. Meet Clint Orms at Silver Creek Outfitter' Boots & Buckles Party on Friday, August 12th from 5pm to 8pm or at Saturday's Boots & Buckles Trunk Show from 10am to 5pm.

Clint Orms is something of a paradox. A throwback to the old West and an artist at the cutting edge of his trade, this lifelong craftsman is proof that men who follow nothing but their dreams are among us, living, working and prospering.

"I'm the luckiest guy around," Orms, 46, readily admits in his syrupy Texas drawl. A silversmith since he was 13, his company Clint Orms' Engravers & Silversmiths is one of the finest producers of silver belt buckles in the world.

Orms comes to town this weekend as part of Silver Creek Outfitters second annual Boots & Buckles Trunk Show.

The story of how a 13-year-old kid tooling leather belts in north Texas would eventually be making custom buckles for the likes of George W. Bush and Prince Charles is the simple, yet never tired, tale of a talented man honing his craft and building a legacy.

Orms grew up in Wichita Falls, on the Texas/Oklahoma border. As a kid, he befriended Buck Brumley, a town craftsman who began teaching him how to work leather.

Brumley would eventually abandon Texas and head west to Albuquerque to work with sliver and turquoise. When Orms turned 16, he bought a car and drove to find his mentor. Before leaving New Mexico, Orms "spent every penny" on turquoise and silver and headed home to sell his wares.

The summer before his senior year in high school, he was producing high quality filigree belts and selling them for $50 apiece--a time when minimum wage was $2.50 an hour.

"That's when I got hooked on developing the product," said Orms. "I was fortunate as a young kid to make something I really liked."

The rest of Orms' story is an artist's dream. He lived and worked in Australia, outside the tropical city of Brisbane, for four years before moving back to south Texas, where he currently lives and works in Kerrville with his wife, Roxie. Back in the United States, Orms worked toward making his name synonymous with lasting quality and high caliber silver craftsmanship.

"We really are about building heirloom quality pieces," he said.

Orms has created buckles for three generations of one family and his intent is "to create something that will be passed down from generation to generation."

The buckles, he hopes, "will add some strength to their family." Orms is spiritual in some of his views, glorying in the fact that "you can create feelings from a piece of metal."

The buckles he creates are "not all cowboy pieces, but they do have a Western flair." After all, he did grow up in and around the rodeo. To keep his Texas heritage alive, most of his buckles are named after counties in the state and many are adorned with Lone Stars or longhorns.

Orms has earned acclaim for his willingness to design custom buckles and silver pieces according to clients' particular whims and fancies.

Gift seekers "may not be artistic, but they get creative about what they want to make," he said. "They might not have the skills to make it with their own hands, but they make it in their minds."

For a woman having trouble figuring out the perfect gift for her lettuce-farmer husband, Orms interlocked layers of green, yellow, and rose gold in a lettuce head design. For a biologist, he created a buckle with DNA helixes, bacteria, and antibodies. "This was a one-of-a-kind buckle," he said with a laugh.

When the office of golfer Greg Norman wanted to give the "White Shark" a unique and memorable gift, they called on Orms. He answered by engraving the British Open trophy on the buckle and clasping countless etched silver bars (enumerating every tournament Norman had ever won) around the belt. Orms delivered a belt that was as much a work of art as a fashion accessory.

"It was beautiful," he said, as if it had come from the hands of another.

To stay current with the newest tools and techniques of silversmithing, Orms travels to trade shows throughout the United States and Europe. He usually spends about two months out of 12 on the road, both visiting his dealers and catching up on industry innovations.

He particularly likes the precision tools of watchmakers and has traveled to Basel, Switzerland to purchase gems and learn about their stone-setting technique. Orms buys the diamonds for his buckles direct from Belgian diamond cutters. He has learned advanced techniques using microscopes and miniature drills to embed precious stones such as sapphires into his belts.

Being a work of art, an Orms buckle is no five-and-dime pick-up. However, considering the time and knowledge invested in each piece, their $200 starting point seems more than reasonable. Prices rise considerably according to the time and materials spent on each piece.

Recently Orms and his team—he works with 11 engravers and sculptors—have been branching into non-belt areas of silver production such as vases, necklaces, flatware and wedding rings.

Clint Orms' designs can now be found in 31 stores in "about 15 to 20 states." It's easy to lose count.

For this artisan, the climb from anonymity to renown was a relatively smooth one. His inspiration came from companies such as the Tiffany Lamp Co., which have built a worldwide legacy with people coveting and collecting their pieces.

"That's what I've worked so hard for--a world-class company," he said.

And this, he has achieved.

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Meet Clint Orms at Silver Creek Outfitters' Boots & Buckles Cocktail Party on Friday, Aug. 12 from 5 to 8 p.m. or at Saturday's Boots & Buckles Trunk Show from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Both events are held at the Ketchum store on Main Street. For more information on Clint Orms' buckles call (830) 367-7949 or visit www.clintorms.com.

Other artists featured at the show are Tres Outlaw Boot Company, The Montana Watch Company and Lone Pine Leathers.




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