Gene Klein added his own unique twists to this traditional spade.

Klein bit
Gene Klein made this Santa Barbara spade for the Fusion Show & Sale. It was his first time exhibiting in the show. Photo by Jennifer Denison.

One of the best aspects of being a custom craftsman is adding personal touches to each piece you make. Sometimes even subtle details and style hallmarks serve as an artist’s signature without even looking at the maker’s mark.

Last fall, when silversmith Gene Klein was invited to submit a piece of custom gear to the second-annual Fusion Show & Sale held at the Buck Brannaman Pro-Am Vaquero Roping, he wanted to create something that showcased his skills but was also in line with the vaquero culture showcased at the event. The annual show featured custom gear from more than 25 makers and their collaborative partners, and promoted “creativity within constraints.”

“There was no criteria on what we could make for the show,” he explains. “Since it was associated with a vaquero roping I really felt I should make a bridle bit, which is what I like doing more than anything else anyway.”

Klein, who is based in Miami, New Mexico, built what he calls a “Santa Barbara spade with a twist.”

“I wouldn’t call it a traditional Santa Barbara because the oval concho is out of the ordinary and the cheeks are about 61/2 inches long, which is slightly shorter than a traditional Santa Barbara.”

The spoon is 31/2 inches long and the underside is copper, along with the cricket and braces. The bit has sterling silver overlay and the striping along the edges is inlaid fine silver, because it stays softer and is easier to pound into the recesses. An unexpected detail is engraving on the inside of the cheekpieces. 

“I like to add little extras to make my work interesting,” Klein explains. “Putting in a little extra time and effort makes an eye-catching piece.”

Influenced by Jeremiah Watt, Klein developed an appreciation for California-style gear and horsemanship.

“It’s all about the signal and making a mental connection with a horse,” he says. “The spade is the epitome of that.”

For more information on Klein and his work, see the Craftsmen section of the February issue of Western Horseman. See more works from the Fusion Show & Sale at


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