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Montana Made: Montana Silversmiths

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Montana Made: Montana Silversmiths Montana Made: Montana Silversmiths
COLUMBUS -

Montana is synonymous with cowboys, ranchers and the open spaces they call home. 

It's no surprise that one of the world's best buckle crafters - is right here in our state. Reporter Samantha Harrelson has more in this week's Montana Made report.

"The name Montana Silversmiths means quality. We believe in -- its really a centuries old kind of tradition of making these products by hand," explained CEO Steve Muellener. "The company was founded by a fellow by the name of Kent Williams. Kent started the company in 1973."

Seven years later Montana Silversmiths moved to a factory in Columbus. Williams sold the company in 1993 -- and it has had multiple owners since -- all who share the same pride in the Montana name.

"We've tried real hard to keep the culture exactly what it was when Kent was here," Muellener said. "The average tenure of our employee base is 12 years. We put together this plan that we were going to give a parking spot to people that have been here a long time, and we started out at 20 years. Which sounds like a long time."

"It was about half of the employees! So we went to 25 years, 30 years, we finally got to 35 year employees got their own parking spot and we've got about seven of them out here," Muellener said.

It is the culture that keeps the employees -- and the product that keeps customers coming back for more.

"We are not a mass market company. We make product that commemorates those special moments in life. Like any product being built, there are shortcuts that can be taken," Muellener stated. "And it might be very miniscule change to the product that saved a company some money or some time - in our case, we don't look for those kinds of shortcuts."

Some of the most intricate and famous pieces made by Montana Silversmiths are the one's money cant buy.

"When we give someone a world championship buckle - it may be the only time he has ever won something quite like that and may never win it again -- it has to be special," Muellener said.

Each championship buckle -- like the ones being handed out at the National Finals Rodeo this week in Las Vegas -- are made completely by hand -- and can take weeks to complete. By the time it is all said and done each buckle will go through about 20 sets of hands before it lands on the belt of a champion.

"The person who just spent his life getting to the pinnacle of a world championship of something, when they see that buckle, they appreciate that there was no corners cut," Muellener said.. This wasn't stamped out of a machine - this was carved by hand by someone who has 30 or 40 years experience in it and they out 30 hours of their life, or 40 hours of their life into making that product special. Were never gonna change that."

Despite the incredible buckle work they do for organizations across North America, jewelry remains the primary business of Montana Silversmiths.

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