VO 7054

For Clint Orms, belt buckles are more than just accessories. The silversmith sees them as a vestige of Western tradition—tools to be used and enjoyed, and then passed along as family heirlooms.

Clint Orms Engravers and Silversmiths is at 229b Old Ingram Loop. The shop opens Mon-Fri 9-5 and Sat 10-4. Call in advance for workshop tours, 830/367-7949.

“I believe if you put your best work out, there’s a pretty good chance someone is going to feel that when they pick it up,” says Orms, whose craftsmanship adorns the belts of such notable Texans as Nolan Ryan, Robert Earl Keen, Lyle Lovett, and Ben Crenshaw, as well as fans around the world.

Orms creates these collectibles of silver and gold in a busy workshop in the hamlet of Ingram, about six miles west of Kerrville and a stone’s throw from the Guadalupe River. He and other artists in The Old Ingram Loop Shopping District—including bronze sculptor Tom Moss and pastel painter Kathleen Cook—add a splash of color to this neck of the Texas Hill Country.

Inside Clint Orms Engravers and Silversmiths, mounted steer horns evoke ranch life, while framed magazine clippings from the likes of VOGUE, Texas Farm & Ranch, Newsweek, and American Cowboy depict celebrities wearing Orms’ buckles. Dyed belts hang from leather tabs on the walls, and in the center of the store, glass cases display dozens of handcrafted silver and gold buckles.

Clint Orms is a calm-natured, soft-spoken man with horn-rimmed glasses and light brown hair tinted with silver—a fitting reflection of his handiwork. Orms grew up in Wichita Falls, surrounded by Western influences from an early age. His father worked at The Cow Lot, the town’s premier Western wear store. As a teenager, Orms made leather belts, and by the age of 16, he was working with silver after a family friend and Western sculptor encouraged him to learn.

As the young Orms began doing silverwork in his garage, he soon realized that there was an enduring, timeless, multi-generational component to sterling silver buckles that leather belts did not possess. Over the next 20 years, Orms worked as an engraver in California, Nevada, and Australia, where he was introduced to a wider spectrum of design and marketing. In 1992 he began his business in Dallas, later moving to Houston, and finally to Ingram in 2003.

Behind the showroom, visitors can get a look at the silversmithing process with guided tours of the workshop. Country music blends with the sounds of hammers, screw presses, silver cutters, welding machines, and engraving tools as the silversmiths and engravers work each piece of metal. Next to Orms’ desk, a large storage cabinet with thin drawers holds sheets of silver and gold, as well as parts and precious gemstones, like rubies and sapphires. The workshop employs 14 people, ranging in age from 23 to 85.

At the silversmiths’ workstations, wooden carousels filled with tools sit alongside instruments like jewelers’ saws, which are studded with microscopic teeth. With focus and finesse, the craftsmen use these small saws to filigree the silver and bring a depth to the buckle that helps distinguish Clint Orms’ style.

Orms says roughly half of his sales are stock merchandise, including belt buckles and other items like hatpins, money clips, cuff links, and bracelets. These items range in price from about $110 to $3,000. The other half of the business is custom, which starts at $200 and can exceed $20,000, depending on labor, materials, and any precious jewels used.

Designing a custom buckle is a journey of creativity and personal expression for both Orms and his customers. The process starts with Orms’ hand-drawn design, incorporating his expertise and the customer’s personal interests. Orms then customizes the bespoke buckles with individual touches like initials, alma maters, birthstones, and livestock brands.

After the design, layout, and cutting, the silversmiths solder the various pieces of the buckle together. If the design work includes filigree, this is performed prior to polishing and engraving, patina, and yet more polishing.

Orms distinguishes his work with small details, often using natural symbolism in his designs. For example, the scrollwork in his buckles is a subtle replication of the natural spiral patterns found in shells and throughout nature, and his buckle tongues are miniature saddle horns. Another distinction are the designs that Orms puts on the backs of his buckles, each different and echoing motifs from the front. He says one of his greatest satisfactions is watching customers turn his buckles over. “It’s like they’ve discovered something,” he says.

Orms’ buckles balance Western heritage with a formal aesthetic, and he cleverly carves a Texas mentality into each of them by naming different styles after Texas counties, such as Bexar or Pecos. (Orms wears the Duval, a three-quarter-inch, guitar-shaped buckle featuring the Bar C brand of a friend’s ranch in West Texas.) “I love what our buckles do to enhance the image of Texas,” he says.

Although each finished product is slightly different because of the nature of the materials and the hands that work them, all represent Orms’ commitment to endurance and grace—and his dedication to making buckles that will carry on for generations to come.

From the April 2016 issue
The June 2024 cover of Texas Highways: Treasures from the Coast

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