Precious Metal Clay was developed in the early 1990’s in Japan by a genius metallurgist called Masaki Morikawa. The development of this product has allowed crafters or self-taught jewellers to be able to make jewellery to a high standard without the years of study needed to make fine jewellery and the expense that it incurs when buying all of the equipment needed to make jewellery.
Metal Clay is a crafting medium which consists of very small particles of metal mixed with and organic binder. When the clay is heated then the binder burns away leaving you with the metal alloy.
I have been using silver metal clay so in my case, once I have heated my piece I am left with 999 Fine Silver. Fine Silver is the purest silver that you can buy and the best thing about it – it doesn’t tarnish!
I was finishing my last year at University when I first hear of Precious Metal Clay. I remember one of my friends telling me that she had read about it in Art Jewellery Magazine and the conversation sticks with me because I remember thinking ‘Nah! That can’t be right! You can turn clay into silver?!’
Needless to say that we all rushed out to buy some. I wasn’t exactly flush in those days and I recall having to make a few sacrifices that week with my food budget to be able to buy this stuff. I purchased a ladybird mould to press my clay in to that day as well and went straight home and tried it out. I pressed a small amount of clay in to my mould, pulled it out, let it dry for 24 hours and then I heated it with my blow torch and watched the clay burn away and the fine silver appear. And just like that I had a readymade piece of jewellery! And there it sat on my work bench for a year while I wondered what to do with it and eventually I melted it down and turned it in to something else. The remainder of that clay sat in the little bag it came in for a few months and when I went to look at it again it had dried out.
It was a bit of an anti-climax to say the least.
Over the years that followed I would purchase a couple more sachets of Precious Metal Clay but I never made anything with it of any interest and much the same would happen – I would open the bag up – try something – hate it and then the clay would dry up. I kind of decided that it just wasn’t something that I would ever get in to. And part of me thought that using Precious Metal Clay was cheating. I felt like it required none of my jewellery making skills to be able to make a piece of jewellery. It was literally just pushing clay in to moulds and that was it. To me it was jewellery making for the work shy. I purchased a few books on the subject but was never that inspired by what I saw in them. I didn’t actually like the pieces of jewellery that people produced using this stuff.
But very recently I have had a complete and utter change of heart. Oh how wrong I was about this stuff! And how wrong I was about all of those amazing artists that use Precious Metal Clay. It was pure ignorance that led me to believe that using clay required little to no skill. My eldest daughter turned 4 in May and for her birthday I wanted to make her a necklace with mine and my husband’s fingerprints on them. I arranged to have some Metal Clay sent over. Just out of curiosity I did a search on the internet to see what was going on in the Metal Clay world these days and the results were astonishing to me.
As a jeweller you should be able to look at a piece of jewellery and know exactly how it’s made. I like to think that I’m usually right about such things but I have now come to realise that a lot of things that I thought were being carved in wax and cast were actually being made out of metal clay. Back in the 90’s people’s skills were limited and the tools and accessories that were used with the clay were also limited. And now there is an endless supply of things being sold to help you create a masterpiece.
I totally get it now – it’s not that using this stuff is cheating at all. It enables hobbyists as well as professionals to be able to make great pieces of jewellery. The beauty of it is that you can make an item by pushing it in to a mould but you can also make things that require a lot more time and effort as well. The scope is massive and endless. All you need is a space to work and a Crème Brule torch or a craft kiln. You can use stuff from round the house to make things like cookie cutters and a rolling pin. But being a jewellery and adding this to my repertoire now makes me a bit of a force to be reckoned with!
I have had an awesome 3 weeks exploring the internet for ideas and pointers on how to use metal clay and I have been practicing my skills. So far I have made 5 pieces of jewellery using Precious Metal Clay and I have already sold 4 of them.
I love it! I don’t know what I’ve been thinking for all these years! Why did someone not talk some sense in to me sooner??!! It’s not just about the amount that I can sell it’s also about enjoying what you are working on. And after all these years I have found a way to enjoy using Precious Metal Clay.
I would like to add that when my order of clay arrived for the fingerprint necklace I made sure to order two packets – I thought that if I messed up the first one then I would have spare. This turned out to be a very good move on my part as I totally messed up the first lot. The only way I could get this stuff off my hands was to wash them – I washed 50 quids worth of silver down the drain. That is a mistake that I will not be making again in a hurry…
Take a peek at some 999 Fine Silver Jewellery I currently have for sale