The Funny Tale of a Sandcast Belt Buckle

In Cowboys & Indians magazine, there are advertisements for Ryan Michael western shirts. Over the last year, I have admired the male model’s vintage sandcast buckle with its wonderful design and even better patina. If you’re not familiar with the magazine, it features high-end authentic western and Native American merchandise. Anyway, every time I see this sandcast buckle, I think, “Leave it to Ryan Michael to find the best of the best for their ads.”

So, a few weeks ago, I’m on eBay, looking at Ralph Lauren western belts and BOOM! There’s the EXACT same sandcast buckle!! :open_mouth: What the?? :face_with_raised_eyebrow: Turns out, the beautiful buckle that I had admired for the last year is a reproduction! Upon further research, apparently the buckle was offered in silver-plate and sterling silver and both were made in Mexico! Also, both buckles are stamped “Ralph Lauren” on the back. I was so disappointed! :woozy_face: Here are some photos to feel my pain…

THE Ryan Michael Buckle!

The eBay Ralph Lauren “silver-plated” buckle that sold for $202…

The sterling silver version on Ralph Lauren’s website. Still available for $495…

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I have met a few buyers for Ralph Lauren. They are always looking for the really good old stuff, didn’t realize that they made reproductions.

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Interestingly, this old buckle just popped up on eBay with many similarities to the Ralph Lauren buckle. Not only is the overall design similar, but regarding the six short “fingers” (3 on each side), the top left finger is slightly angled down on both buckles. Also, both buckles fit a 1 1/4" belt. Probably just a coincidence, but the similarities caught my eye never-the-less. It made me wonder if the RL buckle was somehow designed after this buckle or another one that came from this mold.

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It is a common design. Looks like this one has two sheep heads.

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I came across this photo and it makes me wonder if Ralph Lauren’s wife is wearing one of the reproduction RL buckles shown in my original post or if this is an authentic Navajo buckle, which was used for the reproductions. :thinking:

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This brings up a great point.
Reproductions, replica’s or fakes.

I have several belt buckles purchased in the 1980’s as replica’s. Some are marked, some not.
Some might be original designs and not replica’s.

Showing photos of fronts, then backs. Here is a transcription of wording and marks, if any.

Wording on backs from top left:

PBR:
TM
Reproduced by arrangement with Pabst Brewing Co.
1618
A “Hallmark” in middle
H-168
Berga Mot Brass works
-This is clearly marked as a reproduction.

No marks on back of the brass roping buckle. It could appear to be an older buckle to some.

Brass steer head on Aluminum has some type of mark that I cannot make out.
This one could also appear to be older, as the steer head is the same style used in the early 1900’s.

Sterling Silver with brands on front.
Chambers (something) Co.
Made in USA.
No indication that it is Sterling, but tested to be such.
This one has me stumped. In hand, it appears that someone polished it. I have not researched the brands. It might be older than the 1980’s.
Plan to set a Turquoise cabochon in the middle of it.

Big Sky Country
Montana
Stylized lower case a and j.
Then dazy
Denver
Appears to be a tourist item, but a good quality one.

Not trying to hijack this thread, but offering examples of what to look for on backs of belt buckles.


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Thanks for the post. Your steer roping buckle reminds me of this Bohlin buckle.

image

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Hi @fernwood,

Last night, I was paging through a book I own on belt buckles. I thought you might like to know that your steer roping buckle has been published, which I suppose makes it famous! :slightly_smiling_face:


Photo description reads: “Cast-brass western-themed buckles”

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My late Brother James and I met with RL’s brother in law and buyer, Joe Goldman in NY in '81 when ‘Santa Fe’ was the absolute ‘rage’. Every one wanted the ‘authentic look’ on their models, in their magazines, and on their bodies. Jim and I made the rounds, got write ups and spreads in Vogue, Bazaar, Tobe (an insider trade rag) and a bunch of other publications. Back then, Indian and Southwestern Jewelry was still (at least mostly) made here in the US, so department stores actually bought the genuine article, we had a great time, and great success in NY, and life was good.

As it turned out RL didn’t end up buying anything from us, or anyone else we knew, and at that time everyone in the business pretty much knew every one else, and every bonafide buyer in the US who was buying anything in volume.

By the time the early 90’s rolled around major fashion houses were all turning to Asia, and China was their rising star. When the first knockoffs of my own designs started turning up nationwide, the copies were all Taiwanese or Chinese.

I suspect that the referenced ‘reproduction’ buckles were either produced by a company called “Ivan” in Taipei Taiwan, or by one of their direct competitors.

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Tah, I’d love to get a copy of that book. Where can I find it?

  • Michael

Hello Michael,

There are two versions of the RL buckle - sterling and cast metal. For some reason I remember learning the sterling version was made in Mexico. Here’s a reference that says the cast metal buckle was made in Italy: Link

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Here you go: Link

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Thanks for the links, TAH!

Mexico makes sense for the silver buckle, although it was obviously a cast down from an original Navajo sand casting.

Why someone would choose Italy for the base metal version rather than having it made here is a head scratcher. At that time, it was actually less expensive for Italian designers to have items made in the US. My brother and I did a lot of work for an Italian designer Marcello Murzilli (“Charro”) back then.

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Here’s an interesting follow up to this thread.

Last month, we were in Santa Fe and went into a high-end, “big name” gallery on the plaza. I walked over to the belt buckle case and there was a buckle, just like the one in my original post, mixed in with all of the other Native American buckles. Immediately, I’m thinking, “Is that an original Navajo sandcast buckle? Surely, it is not one of the Ralph Lauren buckles.” So, I ask the salesperson to see it. She pulls it out, turns it over, and says, “It’s by Double RL - whoever that is.” I said, “That’s Ralph Lauren! It’s not authentic. It’s not NA made.” Without any concern or interest, she shrugged her shoulders and put it back in the case.

A few days later, I went back to the gallery and the buckle was still in the case. I was going to mention it to a manager, but they were packed with customers and our time was limited. All I could think of was how could the owners/buyers let that buckle slip into their inventory. And if I was an interested buyer and didn’t know better, would it have been sold to me as Navajo made?

Edit to add a photo of a Ralph Lauren buckle with the Double RL stamp on back…

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Another case of being an educated buyer and “buyer beware”. I’d have been pretty mad if I’d been sold a fake like that…reputable stores should know better, too.

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Pretty disappointing that a reputable gallery would be so nonchalant about having a mass produced reproduction mixed in with their goods. It just goes to show, even when you’re buying from a reputable seller it really pays to do your homework.

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Well, look what I found on Worthpoint! I guess the Ralph Lauren buckle, the subject of this thread, is a reproduction of an authentic Navajo buckle after all. I figured it was, but didn’t think I would ever find a photo to prove it. Case closed.

image

“Very heavy, unusual Historic c. 1920-1930s old concho belt (women’s) mostly sterlingor coin silver I believe, on a handmade yellow/tan buckskin leather, possibly a marriage made from different parts? A monster big 4” classic sandcast silver belt buckle. This belt is unusual, definitely hand made and because of the way the belt is constructed, it’s hard to tell you a lot about the conchos since I can’t see the entire back. As Is, from an estate. There are 3 parts of this belt that need to be explained: 1. mucho monster big & heavy main belt buckle, gorgeous striking classic and looks like a sandcast. I think this is coin silver as it is not magnetic and it doesn’t look ultra shiny the way nickel silver does, though the tarnish is different than the conchos (which is why I wonder if this is a marriage of the belt buckle with a different set of conchos of different age etc.). This is big and bulky and makes a strong statement. It has the kinds of markings you’d expect from the earlier pieces. Not ultra fancy and minimal stamping or file marks that create the unusual design of this. Could be put on a different belt if you chose. Unfortunately I’m not an expert on this but it seems to test positive for silver. This buckle is probably about 170 grams – hard to tell precisely because it’s attached to the belt. It’s a traditional old classic sand cast design. Buckle dimensions = 4" across/wide x 3 1/8" tall. Can accommodate up to 1.25" wide belt width in the opening. This buckle alone would be easily $500 or more in any galley shop in Santa Fe. 2. Then there are 6 beautiful sandcast conchos with oval turquoise that I am positive are sterling or coin silver, that have a copper wire or iron wire back, some of which have been repaired and soldered on the back wire that the leather goes behind (not perfect condition). At least 1 loop looks like it’s not totally closed although it is definitely in place so concho isn’t going anywhere. Again it’s hard to see all the backs of the conchos because of the leather construction. Concho dimensions approx = 2.25" wide x 1.75"tall. The conchos have nice quality blue Nevada? turquoise ovals (~ 10 x 15 mm) and possibly silver plated twist wire that goes around the bezel surrounding the stone or something behind the stone that is slightly magnetic, but the main part/majority of the concho is not magnetic which is the sand cast silver. To repeat, I think only the wire twist around the stone or something behind the stone is plated silver, the rest sand cast thick part appears to be sterling or coin silver that is not magnetic (I did not try to polish it). The turquoise stones are high quality with matrix and beautiful colors that are hard to capture by camera. The stones are also relatively high and deep (not thin and shallow). The stones have a variable quality to them in that not all are exactly the same size or shape, but they all definitely go together as a matched set and this variability really adds to the charm and authenticity of this. 3. Someone did a hand woven weaving of yellow/tan buckskin tanned leather to make this belt. Would go very well with the mountain man re-enactment costumes. I’m guessing this part is about 1950s-70s vintage, likely younger than the silver jewelry belt parts. I’ve never seen another belt quite like this. It is a possibly bit of a marriage of traditional old Navajo jewelry items with a different/younger context leather belt. If you wanted to separate these you could (making 2 belts out of it by putting the main buckle on 1 belt and putting the conchos on another), but you may like it the way it is or have different ideas. I’ve priced this opening bid close to the weight of scrap silver, and maybe a tad under. I can’t be exact because I can’t separate the conchos from the belt. Total weight of belt is 14.7 oz (wow, almost a pound). I’m guessing the soft, supple leather (which itself shows age and some use) is maybe about 4-5 oz, and thus the weight of the silver and stones is about 10 oz. which is ~ 284 grams."

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Quote from article—-Would go very well with the mountain man re-enactment costumes.

:rofl: what?!?

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