Western-yoke, pearl-snap plaid shirts and straight-fit jeans may currently be trending, but custom-made belt buckles will never go out of style. “It’s an item you can wear every day for the rest of your life, then pass down to the next generation,” says Ingram’s Clint Orms, who has crafted buckles for clients ranging from ranch hands to Ralph Lauren during his 36-year career as a silversmith. But the style befitting a cowgirl in Alpine might not be best for a bank president in Dallas. “The backbone of my design is the thought of the trophy buckle, but there are more-understated options,” Orms says. “You don’t have to feel like you just stepped out of the trailer with Sissy.”
While the trophy buckle is “part of the character of Texas,” according to Orms, and may be the preference for cowboys (real or drugstore), ordinary folks who don’t own a spread should consider the Ranger, or horseshoe-style, buckle. Typically, this comes in a three- or four-piece set that comprises a buckle, one or two “keepers” (the loops that hold the belt tongue), and a decorative tip.
Before commissioning a piece from a silversmith, pick your metal—bronze, steel, sterling silver, or myriad shades of gold. Then consider your design (classic Texas star? Silver Longhorn with gold horns?) and your embellishments, which can include personalized engraving or inset jewels. But if you want something elaborate, be patient. “A craftsman can spend up to two hundred hours on a buckle,” says Orms. Perhaps more important, be prepared to pay: time-consuming pieces made with precious metals and stones can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Consider your wardrobe when choosing a Ranger buckle, which comes in two widths: one-inch and three-fourths-inch. The smaller size is considered dressier. Expert craftsmen screw the buckle components onto the leather to allow for easy transfer when a belt wears out, but trophy-buckle belts have a snap for attaching the ornament. Orms says wearing the buckle is the best way to prevent tarnish, but you should also give it a quick buff once a month with a polishing cloth. “It should get the same care that you’d use on a tea set.”