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Precious Metal Clay
Painting clay slip onto a natural object is only one way this versatile medium can be used. Whether the pieces are elaborate or simple, they are wearable, precious metal creations. Photos by Claire Chapman and Tobey Chapman

Precious Metal Clay 

Precious Metal Clay (PMC) or Art Clay is a medium that has endless possibilities in the world of jewelry making. Without the need for a full workshop and lots of equipment, this craft takes very little space, a rather short amount of time, and can be a fulfilling activity with only beginning level skills. The end product is high quality pure silver (or gold, copper, or bronze) jewelry. 

Precious Metal Clay was developed in Japan in 1990 by Mitsubishi Materials Corporation. Dr. Masaki Morikawa, a metallurgist and head of the manufacturing facility, invented a modeling clay made from the precious metal scrap left over from the gold used to make microchips. The first experiments were made with 24k gold. Soon after, Art Clay was created by scientists at Aida Chemical Industries. Both clays are made of very fine, ground particles of precious metal mixed with an organic binder. The flakes of gold or silver are so tiny that 25 of them clumped together is about a grain of salt.

The clay can be carved, stamped, sculpted, extruded, painted, and molded into just about any shape. After the desired shape is created and allowed to dry, it is fired in a small kiln or, depending on the clay, even with a small butane torch. Since the development of the first clays, many different metal clays have been developed: bronze, copper, and sterling silver. Each metal has its specific strengths and attributes and has different firing temperatures and times.

The following photos are of projects using PMC-3 Silver clay. It is easily fired with a small butane torch. In the firing process, the binder is burned off and what is left is 99.9% silver. Pure silver is a softer finished product than sterling silver, and has a bright, light silver color. The 99.9% silver works beautifully for pendants, earrings, bracelet charms, rings, and nearly anything you can think of.

Painting clay slip onto a natural object is only one way this versatile medium can be used. Whether the pieces are elaborate or simple, they are wearable, precious metal creations.
The beauty of PMC is that very little is ever wasted. Every bit that dries out or even dust from filing pieces can be collected and reconstituted with water. The soft paste that is created (clay slip) can be used to paint layers of metal onto natural objects.
This piece was fired with a small, handheld creme brûlée torch. After about 30 seconds of circling the torch over the piece, the binder burns away, creating a small flame.
Once the binder has burned away, the piece will have a warm, salmon-colored glow. Keep the torch circling over the piece to sustain the glow for two minutes and thirty seconds. After that, the piece is fired. It will be dangerously hot, but can be lifted with tweezers and dropped into a bowl of cold water. It will then be immediately cool enough to handle.
The natural object itself burns away and the end result is a piece of jewelry with all the intricacies of the natural object. After firing, the piece is white and needs to be brushed with a wire brush to reveal the silver metal. Then, to bring out more of a shine, it can be burnished with an agate burnishing tool or even the back of a spoon.
Once the silver shine is revealed, the lines and crevices can be enhanced by oxidizing the piece with liver of sulfur. The piece will be completely darkened to a dark gray-black metal. The shine can be brought back to the surface with a silver polishing cloth.

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