Thursday, May 20, 2010


The USS ALBUQUERQUE (SSN 706) is the second United States Warship to be named after Albuquerque, New Mexico. The first was USCGS ALBUQUERQUE (PF-7), a patrol frigate commissioned in December 1943.
The current USS ALBUQUERQUE (SSN 706), a nuclear powered fast attack submarine of the LOS ANGELES class, was constructed at Electric Boat Shipyard in Groton, Connecticut. She was launched on March 13, 1982, and commissioned on May 21, 1983. ALBUQUERQUE is the nineteenth ship in the class and carries a complement of 127 (12 officers, 115 enlisted), all highly trained professionals in their respective fields.

On the occasion of her commissioning, the Mayor of Albuquerque at the time, the Hon. Harry Kinney, wanted to give a meaningful gift to the crew of the city's namesake. The idea was to create custom-made bronze belt buckles for every crew member.

I was lucky enough to win the bid to design and make the buckles for each of the crew, bearing a banner proclaiming his status as a "Plank Owner"--i.e., one of the original crew serving on the boat when she was commissioned. The idea is that eventually, when the boat is finally decommissioned, each of those crew members would be entitled to a plank from her deck.

"PLANK OWNER" version
Mayor Kinney evidently had quite a sense of humor. At the ship's commissioning on May 21, 1983, the Mayor also presented a set of keys for a new Rolls Royce to the Commanding Officer. The first skipper to pilot the submarine up the Rio Grande to Albuquerque for a port visit will win this prize! At each Change of Command these keys are turned over to the new Commanding Officer by the Mayor or his representative.

The City also asked me to make a version without the banner, that they could buy and distribute to dignitaries, VIP's and the family and friends of the crew members, as well as for some subsequent crew members who would serve in the future. I still make these buckles, and you can order one directly from me here in Albuquerque.

Actual size = about 3 1/4" long
The wearing of Dolphins is a longstanding naval tradition. Earning Dolphins is a significant event in a submariner's career; a special high point that instills tremendous personal pride and a sense of accomplishment. Just as wings signify an aviator, the dolphins signify a submariner who has earned them through a rigorous qualification process; hence, my design idea was to flank the ship's crest with dolphins, and frame the buckle with the ship's name and number.

Computers were not yet in common use back in 1983! I carved the original at twice-size, and reduced it with a complicated 3-dimensional pantograph machine, followed by meticulous detailing under a microscope by hand. The buckles are cast by the lost-wax process in a jewelers' bronze alloy, which resists tarnishing and has a remarkably rich golden color. I finish each buckle by a series of hand processes, rather than the mass-finishing techniques employed by mass-producers, so the finished result is almost sculpture-to-wear.

Soon, the buckles will be featured along with many others on my sister website, Masterpiece Buckles dot com. It's not active yet, so in the meantime, you can order them by calling me here at the studio: (505) 296-1400. The price is $125., plus $11 priority mail shipping & handling. Give me a few weeks to fill your order, as each buckle is handcrafted to order.



  1. I was one of the naval officers that received the plank owner belt buckle. It is a cherished memory of that time and is maintained with some other special items from USS Albuquerque. I was the ship's first electrical officer and first communications officer.

    Thanks for creating a work of art commemorating the ship.

    Dave Stern
    LCDR, USNR(ret)

  2. Dear LCDR Stern,

    It was my honor to be chosen to create that design. Thank you for the validation!

    ~Dave Stewart

  3. about the keys to the Rolls Royce - it was a follow up to what the City of Corpus Christi did. USS Corpus Christi immediatley preceeded USS Albuquerque. Mayor of CC gave the Commanding Officer of the USS Corpus Christi a fancy cowboy boot and told him he could pick up the other one when he brought the ship to CC. Mayor Kinney said Albuquerque would do better and offered the keys to the Rolls.

    LCDR Stern

  4. Greetings,
    I purchased a beautiful buckle of yours depicting a mermaid, fish and shells from a store in Petaluma CA, dated 1981. I'm curious if it was made using the same method used for the custom "Plank Owner" buckles? Or if it brass plated copper, as it spears to have a copper base? I'm interested because I want to clean it without damaging the brass Finnish. I would appreciate it if you have any suggestions. I love this buckle and it is very unique! Thank you, Basil Maurer

  5. Hello, Basil - so sorry about the delay in answering your comment! I have been grossly negligent in updating my blog, and missed it somehow.

    Yes, my mermaid buckles are cast in the same jeweler's bronze alloy that I used for the USS Albuquerque buckles. It's just fine to use a quality brass polish on them, as they are not plated, but solid all the way through. Feel free to write directly to me at Aesthetaman (at) gmail (dot) com if you have any further questions.

  6. Are the Belt buckles still for "Plank Owners" only, or can I get my hands on one? Would love to have one.
    Richard D. Cook, HM1 (Nec8496) UAN ret
    Albuquerque, NM

    1. Thanks for the inquiry, Richard. Sorry, but the edition of Plank Owner buckles was closed, as it was reserved for the original plank owners only. The regular version is still available, though! It runs $75 which includes shipping & handling.

  7. I also have a plank owner buckle (#34). It's one of my most cherished possessions from my Navy career.

    ETCS(SS) M Markey USN ret

  8. Mike DeRosa, TMCM(SS), USN (ret.)December 28, 2016 at 7:52 PM

    I, too, own a Plankowner buckle which is mounted in my Shadowbox. At the Decommissioning last year, we (the crew) agreed to hold an official REUNION in the city of Albuquerque, some time in 2020. Might you reissue the buckle with "Crew Reunion 2020" on the banner?

  9. That's a very good idea, Mike! It would be worth the time to make the molds is quite a few crew members were going to participate. Do you have any idea how many there might be?