While silversmith Clint Orms’ belt buckles, money clips and bracelets reflect Texas’ proud cowboy heritage, his most profound professional influence came from a Native American he met while living in Brisbane, Australia.
“The first time I met Michael Redshirt, he was playing Santa Claus in the mall where I was working as an engraver,” Orms said.
In addition to being a “jolly old elf,” the American ex-pat was an artist. Over time, the two became close friends. Orms asked Redshirt to teach him some Native American traditions. Redshirt imparted the wisdom his grandfather had shared with him.
“He said, ‘Put your whole self into your work and it will have a life of its own. People will forever feel your life and energy,’” Orms said. “As a young artist that resonated with me, and today it forms the basis of everything we thing do at Clint Orms Engravers & Silversmiths.”
While Clint and his team of nine artisans focus on the needs of their present-day customers, they are crafting legacy pieces with future recipients in mind.
“It’s my hope that our pieces become family touchstones—serving as a visible reminder of the people who came before and their stories—as buckles are passed from generation to generation,” Orms, who along with his wife Roxie founded his company now-based in Ingram in 1991, said. “If we’ve done our job well, each succeeding owner will also feel the passion that we put into each piece—the passion that brings the silver to life.”
Although the company has grown through the years, Orms still sits at the workbench alongside his team. These days, he focuses his attention on designing and overseeing the manufacturing process. His fellow artisans replicate the pieces. All of the work is done by hand and designs are produced in limited quantities before being retired.
“I wear a lot of hats in the business,” Orms, who shares the day-to-day responsibilities of running the company with Roxie, said. “There’s an art to growing a small business.”
In an era where goods are stamped, stacked and shipped as cheaply and quickly as possible, the hand-crafted originality and quality of an Orms-made piece stands out.
“We use materials that will meet the test of time,” Orms said. “When you see silver and gold pieces in museums that are thousands of years old, it’s a reminder of the permanence of this work, and it reinforces the importance of classic style and design.”
The team uses genuine gemstones and precious metals in heavier weights than necessary to ensure quality and durability.
“When we design a piece, whether it’s a one-of-a-kind for a client or one of our limited edition designs, we develop a look that is current but draws on classic, historic motifs, and we make it durable so even future generations will be able to wear it proudly even as it develops the patina of time,” Orms said.
An Inspired Career
As an artist, Orms finds inspiration in many places.
“Coming up with new designs is never a challenge because inspiration is all around me,” he said. “It’s harder to know when to stop working on a piece. There’s a tipping point in every piece where additions take away from the work instead of improve it. The secret is recognizing when to stop.”
Leather tooling put his feet upon the creative path that eventually led Orms to become an engraver and silversmith.
Hand tooling is an intricate process. It introduced me to some of the basic ideas that I use today. – Clint Orms, who started making belts when he was 13
He moved from leather to metals because he sought permanence in his personal work, but he still appreciates fine leatherwork.
“We’ve got nine master hand toolers who allow us to represent their work in conjunction with our buckles,” Orms said. “It’s gratifying to showcase their work because I know what it takes to achieve it.”
As he began to explore sterling silver and the art of engraving, antique trophy cups from East Coast companies such as Tiffany and Gorham caught his attention as did finely made guns accented with intricate patterns and carvings.
“Because people use what silversmiths and engravers make, it’s sometimes classified as a craft,” Orms said. “In my mind, it’s a practical art. We create pieces that enhance the experience of everyday life.”
The silver’s malleability lends itself to creative expression.
“Silver can be shaped to create different depths,” Orms said. “Then, the palette of techniques including engraving, carving and creating different patinas can add even more artistic depth and interest. There’s always something new to learn or a boundary to push.”
His childhood in Wichita Falls where he was reared in close proximity to old-time cowboys also inspires him.
“The scope of our work extends beyond traditional western wear, but the western buckle is a tradition of Texas cowboys that I wanted to share with the world,” Orms said. “Beyond the obvious, I hope these buckles reflect the cowboys’ sense of pride in taking care of their gear, their livestock and the jobs at hand.”
Orms is also an outdoorsman. Hunting, fishing, wildlife and nature move him. The mosaics, weaves, rosettes and scrolls that anchor or enhance many designs come from plants. The recurring patterns in nature as described by Fibonacci’s sequence are omnipresent as are native and African wildlife.
“It’s no secret that Texans have shaped the land and the land has shaped Texans,” he said.
While Orms’ work is a reflection of many things, he is ultimately inspired by his clients.
“My clients come in knowing what they want,” Orms said. “For many people, they’ve wanted a legacy piece for decades but either weren’t able to find the person to express their vision or they never committed to making the investment of time or resources to bring the vision to life. Being entrusted with someone’s vision, inspires me to do my best.”
His best is the stuff of legacies.
I define a legacy as passing along something of value. I want my pieces to become a family legacy. For me, personally, I want to my legacy to be generations of satisfied customers who are living with pieces exactly as they envisioned them—or pieces that may be even better than they dared imagine.
Orms first made a connection with TWA at the annual convention’s trade show. The relationship has progressed past merely business, and Orms, who is long-time auction donor and exhibitor, now serves on the Board of Directors. Clint Orms Engravers & Silversmiths is one of only eight corporate supporting sponsors.
TWA’s legacy extends to all of Texas. The organization exists to educate and conserve. In my opinion, the thing that TWA does best is share practical knowledge about conservation and land management. As a group, the staff, the leaders and the members are constantly learning and then teaching about conservation. They take steps to care for wildlife and teach other people how to do it, too. – Clint Orms