The world of belts, buckles and leather is a diverse, fascinating and at times complex one. We hope that the information in the pages below will provide you with answers to the majority of the questions that you may have. You may find that we have gone a little over the top with the detail but we would prefer to let you choose how much or how little you wish to dig into it. If there is anything else you would like to know please do not hesitate to ask and we will do our best to get back to you or add further information onto this page to help others in the future.
A little bit about buckles
If you were to ask most people how they thought a belt buckle was made I think you might draw a bit of a blank. Probably not a subject most people have contemplated and until now with quite some justification.
Our aim here at Elliot Rhodes has been to slowly open people’s eyes not only to the subtlety and complexity of buckle making but also to its sheer diversity.
The first thing that many will find surprising is that a large percentage of the buckles we design and make still originate in wax. This is a time honoured technique first used some 5700 years ago which has varied surprisingly little in this time. In essence this means that we create original shapes and designs by hand in soft malleable wax from which we are then able to take an imprint to create a mould. Traditionally the original wax piece would be packed in clay and then put into a kiln where the original wax piece melts away leaving a void into which a base metal such as brass or silver would be poured.
Wax casting still persists as for many buckle styles it is a perfect method to maintain original features and tiny hand work details. It also allows us to create fluid natural shapes that retain the look and feel of our original handwork.
As for our production buckles, once the original moulds are made we will then simply repeat the process on a slightly larger scale. Normally the production moulds are made in latex which are then centrifuged at high speed whilst having molten zinc poured into them. As the molten zinc hardens we get raw pieces which then have to be tumbled on a bed of pumice stones to remove raw edges before being washed and then sent off for the galvanic process through which the raw buckle is plated with the desired finish (Silver, Gold, Brass etc…) using electrolysis. The finishing itself has multiple elements to it dependent on the complexity of the finish required – so it may be that we want an aged silver finish in which case we electroplate in silver but then tumble the finished buckles to create a slightly worn look.
The process is very similar for brass or bronze (but with a different material for the moulds due to differing melting points) and many elements remain the same for precious metals such as silver and gold, we just have to be very careful to recycle all of the unused metal so that we can remelt it and use it again!
For more classic buckles we generally use a process of microfusion where steel moulds are created and molten brass or zinc is forced into the moulds at high pressure. We can also use die cutting where a solid sheet, normally brass, is pressed into with a die so that the desired shape is pressed out of the sheet itself.
As for what goes into the buckles – really anything goes and this is where here at Elliot Rhodes we just keep on experimenting. You will have seen in our stores buckles full of Swarovski crystals and it is worth knowing that there is only one way to attach stones into a buckle and that is by hand! We also experiment with semi precious or even precious stones, these are normally hand cut which can in itself be problematic as no two stones are ever completely identical.
Over the years we have inserted all sorts of things into buckles, from carbon fibre and fossilized wood to buffalo horn and prehistoric shark teeth as well as all sorts of enamels to bring that extra dash of colour. Ultimately to us buckles are no different than jewellery and as such no limitation exists as to what we can or cannot do with them. However, one thing that differs dramatically from jewellery is the way in which we wear buckles. Our first thought when we design a buckle is durability – without a solid construction and good ergonomics the buckle may look good but fail to function in terms of the way it sits and most importantly how strong it will be. Unlike jewellery which is purely decorative the primary role of your buckle is to keep your belt attached. If we cannot achieve that then no point worrying about how pretty it looks!
Materials, durability, and allergy advice
A material we use frequently for our buckles as it is especially good for three dimensional forms. It is very hard wearing but it is a rigid metal so if dropped on a hard floor or banged on a hard surface it can break and is unfortunately irreparable.
It is composed of 97% Zinc with trace elements of Aluminium & Copper
All of our buckles are Nickel Free however for those with acute skin allergies even this does not guarantee you will be free from a reaction. I would suggest a Brass buckle as a starting point.
Used for a lot of our more classic buckles Brass has a lovely weighty feel and is extremely durable. In spite of this care should still be taken not to drop or bang your buckle excessively.
For allergy sufferers Brass is normally our first recommendation – in 99% of cases our customers do not seem to suffer any reaction. The finishes put onto the brass are always Nickel Free and the brass itself does not seem to be a base metal that poses problems.
Used for some of our more unique pieces and cast in the same type of foundries where statues and the like are made. It has wonderful textural and three dimensional properties and as it ages will take on varying patinas. This is all part of the charm of the material.
No problem for allergy sufferers as Bronze does not contain any Nickel
This is a base metal we use for a few specialist buckles and is produced in the same way as Bronze. Equally hard wearing and with a sort of mixed silvery gold patina that has its own special charm and will age beautifully taking on a variety of patinas.
Made from 60% Copper, 20% Nickel and 20% Zinc – best avoided by allergy sufferers.
Currently used principally for our Bullet Buckle collection Stainless Steel as you will well know is unbelievably hard and tarnish resistant.
Ideal for Allergy sufferers.
It is always a joy to work in Sterling Silver – the properties of this precious metal are timeless and its style eternal – this is one buckle that will never lose its value. All of our buckles in Sterling Silver are hallmarked by the Goldsmiths Company Assay Office.
For allergy sufferers this is a guaranteed allergy free option.
Durable, timeless and an investment piece if ever there was one. We don’t make many gold buckles but when we do they are true works of art.
Perfect for allergy sufferers.
Below is a guide to the primary buckle finishes we use and the way in which they will age and wear.
SHINY SILVER / AGED SILVER / SATIN SILVER
All silver buckles (unless they are sterling silver!)have a protective coating applied to them but can be scratched and may over time slightly tarnish as these scratches oxidize. In general this will be barely perceptible and should not detract from their appearance or wearability.
SHINY BRASS / AGED BRASS
Although over time brass finish buckles may slightly tarnish or scratch their appearance will stay remarkably unchanged from their original state.
LIGHT GOLD / SATIN GOLD
All true gold finish buckles are made with trace elements of real gold in them, making them a little more expensive than their silver counterparts. Although they have a protective coating applied to them over time brass finish buckles may slightly tarnish or scratch. However, their appearance will stay remarkably unchanged from their original state.
SHINY GUNMETAL / SATIN GUNMETAL / MATT GUNMETAL
A gunmetal finish is achieved with a special spray or bath dipped application of black oxide coating. This is then protected by an additional coating of matt or shiny varnish. Ultimately this is a coating and over time through continual rubbing or scratching the colour may slightly fade but this will be gradual and should not detract from the overall look of the buckle.