The J.W. Cooper Effect
Since 1993, J.W. Cooper has been adorning discerning Bal Harbour shoppers with rare and one-of-a-kind belt buckles and accessories. Its roots may have been in Western motifs, but over the decades J.W. Cooper has evolved beyond the fringe and has become the premier destination for artful accessories. Here, we speak to the store's founder, Todd Rauchwerger about what sets his brand apart and what keeps his customers coming back.
What was most popular then and how has the product changed?
The merchandise back then was focused around a large collection of Western boots, fringe jackets and Levi's jeans. The buckles and accessories were also predominately more Western, Southwestern and Native American. Today, there are no fringe jackets, or Levi's. The Western theme is being fazed out and the store offers a balance of very clean dress buckles, casual polished buckles and unique, one of a kind buckles that the store has become known for. The accessories we offer are edgy, contemporary and sometimes daring. The store also has been successful with the unique sculptures carved from fossilized mammoth and walrus ivory.
What have been the most popular pieces?
The belts and buckles are the majority of our sales. I’ve noted before that most men don’t wear a lot of jewelry besides a watch and maybe cufflinks. But, a buckle is one of the first things a person takes notice of. It should be on par with anything else you pick up from one of the brands at Bal Harbour—and these are.
Is there a single motif that's most popular?
Anything that's one-of-a-kind, or that is very rare. In particular, dragons, skulls, butterflies and hearts are popular motifs.
What has been the most unusual request you've had?
We get a lot of custom orders with initials, ranch logos, corporate logos and the like. We have some celebrity clients, like Robin Williams, Pat Riley and Jerry Bruckheimer with interesting requests. For Jerry, we had made custom buckles for some of his movies—The Prince of Persia, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Lone Ranger.
What was the most expensive belt buckle you sold?
Last year we sold a belt and buckle set for $25,000. The buckle was made from 14K yellow and white gold and then we made matching 14K yellow and white gold Conchos to go on an matte black alligator-skin belt.
Are your clients mostly local or do you consider your store "a destination" for visitors?
After their first visit, the store becomes a destination for them. You simply can't find what we offer anywhere else.
What are some of the more rare materials you work with?
Twenty-fifty thousand-year-old mammoth ivory, fossilized walrus ivory, semi-precious stones such as turquoise, lapis, mother of pearl, coral and spiny oyster shell.
How many hours go into producing some of these buckles?
The more unique and one of a kind buckles can take two to three months to complete.
When did you begin selling sculpture?
I brought in one sculpture just as a decorative piece 10 years ago and put a price on it “just in case” and it sold in about six months. I continued bringing in a piece at a time, and each sold pretty quickly. He's an American artist living in Bali for the last 30 years. He conceptualizes the pieces and then works with local Balinese artisans to complete each work. I've been working with this one artist, but I am looking for some new sculptors to bring in.
What was the most impressive art piece you had in store?
A sculpture that sold for $38,000 called "The Jailer." It was made from fossilized walrus tusk, Siberian jet, brass bullet casings with red, white and blue semi-precious stones as the bullets, sterling silver figures and a chronometer from a WWII fighter plane. It sold in 10 days!
What's the relationship between the art and the accessories?
It’s all art. The buckles that I have made for the store—finding that unusual hand carved 25,000 mammoth ivory dragon centerpiece that I’ll then send out to a particular buckle maker/artist to create a sterling silver and 18K yellow and rose gold buckle—is a work of art in itself. The combination of semi-precious stones that a Native American uses to make hand-inlaid buckles are works of art. The subtle leather jackets that have sterling silver buttons that are custom-made with matching alligator trim is wearable art. The relation is summed up well here: 'The definition of art is the product of imagination and creativity, particularly in a physical form.' That is what goes into the buckles, accessories and sculptures that we sell. I strive to offer pieces in the store that you won’t find anywhere else but in J.W. Cooper. That's what makes us stand out alongside some of the most prestigious brands in the world.