Metal clay is available in bronze, copper and many types of silver including sterling and fine silver. While each formula has different working properties and certainly produces different end results, the working process is similar. I use Precious Metal Clay and Bronzclay to create the pieces in my Unique Silver Jewelry and Primal Metals Collection respectively.
Though metal clay is not actually a clay, it feels and is worked like clay. Creating jewelry from metal
clay is similar to sculpting. The material is worked wet and then carved and perfected in the dry state. It is then fired
for hours in a kiln. The high temperature and long firing time causes the binder to fire out, leaving only pure metal behind.
A few months ago I was presented with a challenging project.
A young bride, shopping in the Manitou Springs gallery, fell in love with one of my "one of a kind" bronze pendants on a multi-strand necklace. She needed two matching necklaces and asked me to make a duplicate of the original.
For the metal-clay artist this becomes especially challenging because there are certain unpredictable aspects to creating and firing metal clay components that one who is unfamiliar with the process would not expect - things like texture, shrinkage and the kiln-fired patina. Rather than trying to match the original, I decided to reproduce two pendants.
The pendant consists of a plate, a fancy bezel and a round bail, each of which are made separately. These components are then combined with the stone before firing. Did I mention that because of shrinkage during firing, extra space must be allotted, and movement of the stone during firing is to be expected? If it is too tight, the stone can be crushed; too loose, it will fall out.
The first image shows the original necklace and the two new pendants before firing. Notice how much larger the
unfired pieces are to allow for shrinkage in the kiln. The second image shows the
different components (bails, bezels and round bases) in their leather-hard state
Enameling is the ancient art of "painting with fire". Pigmented glass particles are fused to prepared metal, usually through multiple firings, creating a colorful, durable, glossy finish. The picture on the left shows several copper shapes, with powdered glass applied, ready to go in the kiln. These particular pieces require a minimum of 4 firings.
The art of enameling evolved in early Greece sometime before 2000 BC. In its earliest and simplest form, vitreous enamel was the process of fusing of glass granules, or powders, onto metal. Today it isnot quite so simple.
Glass does not really "melt"; it flows when heated. The minerals added to produce color also impart specific physical properties to the glass. These characteristics are known as the coefficient of expansion - the softening point and rate of flow peculiar to each type and color of enamel. The size of the glass granules, the type and thickness of the metal, and the firing time and temperature all interplay to create elements of unpredictability to the work. Each piece becomes a unique work of art. Success can come early but we spend a lifetime learning the intricacies of enameling.