Sterling-silver artisan Pat Areias got an order she couldn”t refuse: Design and make 350 custom, hand-tooled belt buckles for the cast and crew of the acclaimed Mafia television series “The Sopranos.”
The buckles, she said, were commissioned by series creator David Chase as a parting gift when the show ends its sixth, and final, season this spring.
Designed by Areias at her Carmel Valley studio, the silver rectangles measure 1½ by 2¼ inches, have a hammered finish and a raised cutout of the show”s distinctive logo, the name “Sopranos,” its “r” formed by a handgun. On the back, they are engraved “LUV DC” with the date “4 07.”
The price? Like any sensible person dealing with the mob, Areias wouldn”t say. But the basic buckle, without the logo and engraving, goes for $400 at the boutiques she and her husband, Fred Sanchez, have in Carmel, Beverly Hills and New York.
While she wouldn”t be a snitch when it came to the price, Areias did — reluctantly — reveal that she has never seen “The Sopranos.” (“We don”t watch a lot of TV,” she said.) But with the hoopla that surrounded its debut in 1999 and the even bigger hoopla that”s accompanying its impending end, she was certainly aware of it.
“I read the ”Vanity Fair” article!” she said, referring to the cover story in the magazine”s April issue.
Apparently, though, Chase is a fan of her work. Areias said he had been a customer before and went to her New York shop to inquire about having buckles made. He talked to her staff there, she said, and was interested in having something custom done, using the hammered buckle as the starting point.
Areias said she talked with a member of his staff to fine-tune some ideas. The basic parameters, she said, were that it be unisex, not too ornate and have the “Sopranos” logo on it.
“He wanted something simple, but handcrafted,” she said.
Areias came up with two designs, each in two sizes. One had the logo engraved onto the buckle, the other had the cutout letters soldered to it. Chase chose the cutout version.
The buckles are being made at Areias” workshop in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where she learned the trade and started her business 20 years ago.
She was born in Los Banos, to a long line of Portuguese dairy farmers. She studied Portuguese and Spanish cultures, arts and languages at the University of California-Santa Barbara, then lived in Central and South America while serving in the Peace Corps. While there, she was introduced to leather- and silver-work, apprenticing to craftsmen in Ecuador and Mexico.
Areias fell in love with both the art and Sanchez, a mechanical engineer from Mexico, and remained there for more than two decades.
Over the years, she developed a line of silver pieces that includes the belt buckles as well as jewelry, hair accessories and items for the home. Sanchez oversees the business side and occasionally lends his engineering skills when Areias has a problem figuring out how to execute a design.
The couple eventually moved to Carmel Valley, setting up design, office and packaging operations in two barns that share a six-acre spread with their home. Production remains in Mexico, overseen by a family whose patriarch is a silversmith.
The company, named, simply, Pat Areias, sells its silver pieces to other companies, including Sundance and Hudson & Co., as well as at its own three shops.
Areias” designs are wide-ranging. Belt buckles go from plain, flat, shiny military-style to elaborately engraved and jeweled. Necklaces come in delicate, old-fashioned styles and pieces adorned with skulls. There are barrettes in woven, traditional Mexican styles and with Art Deco sensibilities.
The buckles come without belts, but the Pat Areias shops do have a selection of leather straps to make them complete. Even the “Sopranos” pieces were leather-less. To help cast and crew members make them functional, Areias is tucking a card in with each buckle, congratulating the recipient on the show”s success — and offering a 15 percent discount on belts purchased from her stores.
So if you happen to see Tony or Carmela Soprano, Uncle Junior, Paulie Walnuts or some other member of the extended “Sopranos” family on Ocean Avenue in the next few months, don”t fret that the mob has moved in. They”re probably just shopping.