Precious metal clay is just what it sounds like: fine silver or gold ground extremely small and suspended in a binder to create clay. For both novice and experienced jewelry makers, working with this material has many advantages.
Precious metal clay (or PMC) is just what it sounds like: fine silver or gold ground extremely small and suspended in a binder to create clay. Just like what you played with as a kid. For novice jewelry makers, learning to create with precious metal clay is easy. For jewelry makers of any experience level, working with this material takes little time. It also requires little space in your workshop.
Editor's Note: The late Jeff Graham attended the Kraftwerks 2003 event in Ontario, California as a featured "Kraft Master." He shared his observations of Carl Stanley's precious metal clay demonstration.
Honestly, before I saw Carl Stanley's very informative demonstration, I had no interest in precious metal clay. However, now I can see a lot of unique applications for this material.
Why Use Precious Metal Clay?
Once you mold and shape this material, you can fire it in a casting oven. Depending on the type of clay, you can even fire it with a torch.
PMC offers several advantages.
First, it's very fast and simple to work with. This material has a very small learning curve for beginners. It doesn't require traditional jewelry making skills, such as soldering or forging.
Second, PMC requires little space. You don't even need a workshop, just a small space on your workbench or table. As for traditional tools, you'll only need a burn out oven or torch.
Third, clubs and schools often teach classes on PMC. If you don't have an oven, look for a local class. You can get access easily.
PMC comes in a plastic wrapped block just like any clay. Of course, it costs more. You can roll, shape, mold, glue, stamp, and extrude this material. You can do just about anything else you can imagine with PMC to create jewelry pieces. Then, set it aside to dry out and harden so it'll keep its shape. Next, fire it and then… Magic! Silver and gold jewelry.
As you can see, PMC can be manipulated in many ways with many techniques.
Plastic Molding Materials
Notice the lavender pieces of plastic around Carl's workspace? This is a plastic material you can use to make molds or texture stamps.
The plastic molding material comes in sheets as well as clay-like and liquid forms. Basically, you can work it like the PMC itself. You can also make forms from it.
When the plastic mold material cures, it becomes somewhat like linoleum or tire rubber. It will hold whatever shape you created with a high level of detail. You can then use it to mold the clay.
Precious Metal Clay and Plastic Shrinkage
Both the PMC (after firing) and plastic molding material (after curing) have some shrinkage. The degree depends on the type of clay or molding. Some materials hardly shrink at all, while others shrink as much as 30% or so.
However, you can take advantage of this shrinkage. You can actually make pieces smaller by molding, firing and remolding.
For example, you can make a smaller version of this cactus silver pin you've already created without going through the labor of carving the pin all over again. You can create a mold of the original pin using the plastic molding material.
Simply press the original pin into the soft molding material and you'll create a duplicate image. Then, take some PMC and make a new pin from the new mold. Fire the PMC and, depending on the type of clay (and its shrinkage), you'll have a smaller duplicate of the original cactus pin. If you want more same-sized duplicate pins, use the same mold. If you want even smaller duplicates, create new molds with the ever shrinking pins.
With this method, you can quickly and easily create molds for identical pieces in various sizes. Compare this with a traditional method like wax casting. For small production custom jewelry, this process will save a significant amount in labor and material costs.
Please note, you can also add additional details very easily to the molding material. With various tools, you can cut, scribe, or indent the additions into the material while soft.
Precious Metal Clay Textures
Take a look at these examples of different textures created using PMC. As you can see, there are endless possibilities.
Creating Precious Metal Clay Jewelry
Carl Stanley created the PMC pin shown at the top of the article in no more than hour. He was lecturing while making it, too. So you can imagine how fast something like that piece could be made under normal working conditions.
This is how he created it.
First, the PMC was rolled out to the desired thickness. Note: Carl placed two sticks of the same thickness on either side of the clay before rolling. Thus, when he rolled over the top of the sticks, the clay would have a uniform thickness.
Texture and Cutting
Once the clay was rolled evenly and large enough, Carl applied different texture stamps to it to create the desired effect. Then, he placed a paper pattern of the pin on top of the clay as a guide for cutting out the pieces. With an X-acto knife, he cut around the pattern to create the pin pieces. The cut pieces were put aside to dry out before fitting, sanding, and assembling. (Depending on the temperature and humidity where you live, the drying stage can be fairly short, from 30 minutes to an hour, or maybe a couple of hours).
Sanding and Assembling
Once the cut pieces dried, Carl fitted, sanded, and refitted them until he got the jewelry shape he wanted.
Liquid PMC was used to glue the various pieces of the pin together. You can readily find this liquid form where you purchase your PMC.
Once glued together, the pin was set aside to dry and harden before firing.
As you can see, making this pin was quick, simple, and actually kind of organic. You don't really need traditional jewelry making tools for a project like this. For instance, Carl did the sanding with an everyday nail file. He painted the liquid PMC onto the piece with just an ordinary paint brush from an art supplies store.
Liquid Gold Accents
Here's an interesting twist. If you want to put gold (real gold) accents on any piece of PMC, just paint it on. Liquid gold, almost like a paint, is available and a lot cheaper than using solid PMC gold.
You can vary the appearance of the gold paint (plating) on the finished jewelry according to the number of coats you apply. For example, the more coats you apply, the stronger and darker the look of the gold plating.
Adding the Bail and Gemstone
After the glue set to keep the pieces together, Carl fitted and applied the bail and gemstone to the pin. Then, he fired the pin. (Note: a CZ can take the heat. However, other gem materials may need to be set after firing).
Precious Metal Clay Jewelry Gallery
Enjoy viewing these examples of beautiful PMC jewelry.