Montana Silversmiths Tour

August 2008 -- Montana Silversmiths treated Gold Mountain Trading to a royal visit. Here is the glorious Montana back-country and a rare, behind the scenes look at the legendary Montana Silversmiths. Join us on our tour!

Click any image to enlarge.

Our story begins with two 21st Century adventurers. Setting off for Montana and *thrilled* to be together!

After the PHX-SLC-Billings flights, now relaxing in downtown Billings.

Billings is a clean, comfortable town with a "healthy" feel to it. Not what we were expecting from a place with four petroleum refineries.
Regarding the For Lease sign: What could possibly have convinced the entrepreneur that a hip hop store was “just the thing” for Billings, Montana?
Montana Silversmiths booked us into the Rock Creek Resort, five miles south of Red Lodge. Comfortable, cozy and quiet. Except for the dag-blamed creek outside our room ... sheesh!
Loitering at the lodge.
A forest fire raged only five miles away. The smoke tinged the air with a nice sweetness (burnt cedar) and added a touch of drama to our excursion.
Our very own balcony
Nice digs, eh?
Biggest dandelion ever.
Video of Rock Creek (click to view)
Montana is anything but subtle; always "in your face" with beauty, grandeur, and death.
Nice halibut at the Old Piney Dell restaurant at the resort.
Next morning: Five miles north to Red Lodge for breakfast
Red Lodge, Montana -- A very nice town.
Red Lodge has many wonderful old-style neon signs.
Our breakfast destination. The dancing neon Indians lit up one by one. Neat-o
Local patrons inside the Red Lodge Cafe
Again, there's very little subtlety in Montana. Yep, that's a big, hearty glob o' Velveeta!
Montana coffee -- You'll recognize these coffee cups if you've ever been to Montana. This particular style of cup is in just about every restaurant but we never see them anywhere outside the state.
“I'm the sheriff of Carbon County!”
A post-breakfast stroll through town brought us to these very nice doggies.
Just lookin' for some lovin!
Weathered wood in Red Lodge.
We headed up the Beartooth Highway after our morning walk. You don't often see glacial valleys like in the lower 48.
Charles Kuralt famously called it “the most beautiful highway in America.”
Slight haze in the air from nearby forest fires, outside Red Lodge and in Yellowstone Park.
Our desination was Cooke City, Montana, but we had to dip in to Wyoming for a while to get there.
Altitude: 10,947 feet
That's Yellowstone Park out there in the smoke.
Believe it or not, this guy got a haircut before the trip.
Cooke City: Home of Bearclaw Bob's. We're certainly not in the desert anymore.
Bikers were everywhere, on their way to Sturgis. We had lunch at this fine establishment.
Just had to document these outrageous gas prices. And the fun biker gang.
One serious piece of AMERICAN METAL!
Back in Red Lodge, we had one of the most excellent meals of all time here.
Sorry, didn't get a shot of the meal; it was devoured too quickly.
Columbus, Montana. Home of Montana Silversmiths.
The longest continually operating bar in the U.S. Or so we were told by Jenny Calovis, manager of the Montana Silversmiths outlet store.
Enough dilly-dallying! The good folk at Montana Silversmiths brought us here for more than goofing off. So, time to get down to some serious business.

To learn about the company, check out our Montana Silversmiths article.
Known affectionately and simply as "the plant," Montana Silversmiths wasn't always in such a modern facility. The company was started in 1973 by silversmith Kent Williams in a service station.
The little silver shop on the Yellowstone River.
Our name up in lights!
The guys who brought us here: Joe Rand, Executive Vice President (left) and Clark Fletcher, National Director of Sales (right). These gentlemen are no exception to the Montana Silversmiths ethic. We started working with the company in 1978 and folks there are consistently down-to-earth straight-shooters.
Major Accounts Representative Jody Johannes showed us around this amazing facility. A personal Montana Silversmiths tour!
Merchandise that is displayed at gift shows is stored here.
When we proudly tell our customers that Montana Silversmiths jewelry and buckles are hand-crafted, we ain't foolin' around! Here, each piece of raised lettering for a custom award buckle is hand cut from Jeweler's bronze.
Corey is a buckle designer.
Kendal demonstrates his hand engraving technique. Here he's showing us "bright cut," those fancy filigree swoops seen on the face of custom western belt buckles.
Kendal is a delight. He has being engraving for 39 YEARS! A man doing what he is meant to ... and one of the happiest people you'll meet.
The beauty of Montana belt buckles is refined from base metal (here, unpolished sterling silver).
A metamorphosis! If not a masterpiece.
Trophy buckles go through 25 individual steps -- and handled by at least as many artisans -- before leaving the building on the way to you and your award winner.
We have no recollection of what was happening here. But it's loaded with action!
A die struck trophy buckle at Stage 3 of gosh-knows how many steps. Prior to this, the buckle was cut from a brass sheet then die struck to create the bright cut filigree.
Trophy buckle bases ready for your customization through!
Kiln heating is an essential part of the buckle creation process.
The “Domer”. This gentleman is creating the curved dome shape of each buckle, one at a time.
Each and every event figure that appears on Trophy Buckles or Figure Buckles must be individually cast. These lovely ladies are injecting wax into figure molds, from which individual figures will be cast.
Hand polishing
We were impressed with how quiet, clean and relaxed everything was.
This hydraulic press embosses metal buckle "blanks". This is the "die struck" part of die struck buckles.
Stamping buckle shapes out of five-foot diameter rolls of brass. See how unhurried she is? Seems almost impossible in this age.
The first batch of the 50th Anniversary NFR (National Finals Rodeo) cuff bracelets in mid-production.
Check out all the open bottles of patina ... human beings actually handcraft this beautiful jewelry (vs. a computer driven factory halfway around the world). We found this almost shocking considering Montana Silversmiths catalog includes close to 10,000 items.

No assembly line here.
Mike DuFresne does marketing, photography and is responsible for the enormous 4-inch tall Montana Silversmiths catalog. Pauletta Kluth is Webmistress of
Bev Newman, Customer Service Supervisor and Wendi Wetzel, Customer Service Manager. These two work their hineys off but still manage to beam smiles our way!

We had a truly wonderful time at Montana Silversmiths. What impressed us most was just how many dozens of people are involved in hand-crafting something as seemingly simple as a pair of earrings -- let alone a custom belt buckle! In this day of bulk, crappy Asian imports we are more proud than ever to represent this quality American brand.

We said "until later" to everyone at Montana Silversmiths. We will likely see most of them next at the big western gift show in Denver this coming January.

The next day we had a nice river float planned. We tanked up on a hearty breakfast at Hank's Place in Red Lodge. If you're interested in relocating to this sparkling, friendly little town, this modest eatery is currently for sale.

Morning in a Montana cafe.
The newspaper expressed relief that the nearby fire was contained, but it summed up our little odyssey as well.
Another shot of Red Lodge. That's the Kia Optima that was rented for us. A surprisingly refined vehicle, absolutely nothing about this car was "wrong" or annoying.
Us through the lens of the Red Lodge webcam.

Procedure: Call home, stand in the street and wave to the top of a building like a fool.
A nice view out the windshield.
We're on our way to Absarokee (pronounced ab-SORE-kee) for a leisurely float down the Stillwater River to the Yellowstone River. Montana Silversmiths is sited where these two rivers meet.
Absarokee, Montana
Absarokee, Montana
Absaroka River Adventures
The shuttle van was a dirty beater ... love it!
Here's our guide Hannah. An awesome human being.
Hannah is studying neuroscience in Bozeman. She's also working on her pilot's license, guides a river raft and is 20 years young.

Click the image to hear Hannah's incredible singing voice!
The other folks on board the raft were all Billings locals.
The home of Kent Williams, founder of Montana Silversmiths. I guess I'm paparazzi now; feels sort of creepy.
Contemplating my oh-so-serious jump off the “cliff”. “Jeez, I wish this guy would just DO IT already!” says Hannah.
A refreshing end to a refreshing trip.


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  • "I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for all your assistance with my order. This being my first order with you has been such a pleasure. Great communication combined with great service. Gold Mountain Trading sets an example other companies should follow. I have told all my friends to visit your web site and encouraged them to buy from you. Thanks again for allowing me to have such a pleasurable shopping experience with you."

    Nita Pace
    Chelan, Washington
    [Nita purchased our Buckle Handbag and Bull Riders Only Buckle]