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Strange title for an article you might say, well yes, probably, but ‘Play Doh’ is a term that I’ve heard applied to Metal Clay a few times in the last 18 months. Actually when you look into it it’s not that’s not that bad a description... but I digress, let’s go back to the beginning.

 

What is Metal Clay?

Well in simple terms it is a combination of very fine particles of precious metals such as Silver, Gold and Platinum mixed with an organic binder (in this case the clay) and water. From a UK prospective the first major developments in metal clay were undertaken by Mitsubishi (yes the car manufacturers’) in the early 1990’s. Their product was to become known as PMC, and was for a while was the only avenue for this remarkable product in this country; however, a short time later the Aida Corporation introduced their Art Clay into the arena. Both have similar properties and can be used in the same way and each type has its own devoted followers. Metal clay has yet to make a major impact on the jewellery trade here in the UK with people not understanding its potential or finding it too fiddly and time consuming to be profitable. The American jewellery makers are leading the way, and, at the time of publication you can now work in: Platinum, Gold, Silver, Copper, Bronze and Steel. A remarkable lady by the name of Hadar Jacobson has now produced the copper, bronze and steel versions in powder form that you mix up as needed, she has also done extensive experiments in how to combine the different type’s together, no easy task when they all have different firing requirements.

So how does it work?

This is not a lesson on how to use metal clay in fine detail, merely an introduction to what you can achieve with this most remarkable of mediums.

Firstly you need to remember that while the finished item is precious metal the main component is clay, any restriction you have initially will be dictated by that medium first and foremost, so forget you are a metal smith and become a potter. You can buy the clay in lump form of various weights, in a syringe or as a very fine sheet and you can use one or all of these to make your piece. Because clay is the dominant material you can manipulate it in a variety of ways. It can be rolled, moulded and stamped, you can add texture to all or parts of it and it can be built up in layers to produce interesting effects. The picture below shows a clasp that I am working on with one side fired and ready for polishing and the other side still in the ‘dry’ state waiting for final sanding and finishing before being assembled prior to firing.


Silver is the most popular version of metal clay and after firing produces Fine Silver which can then be finished using your preferred method. A word of caution here, Fine Silver is a lot softer that Sterling so does not lend itself to items such as rings that are exposed to high levels or wear and tear. The Platinum, Gold and Silver versions can be fired with a hand torch in what is a relatively quick process if you don’t have a kiln; however, the copper and

bronze versions require a very long 2 stage process involving charcoal. They have just introduced a quick fire version over here but I haven’t had chance to try them out as yet but the signs are good.

Metal clays are never going to replace the traditional metalsmiths’ techniques and nor should they. My hope is that they will become accepted as another process that enhances this wonderful craft of ours, a way of stimulating people’s imagination into different areas and ultimately giving us one more avenue to be creative with. Just to whet your appetite to the possibilities this is what I produced from my first experiment with copper clay earlier this year. Don’t know about you but I’m off to find the play - doh

 

 

Article written for the Guild of Jewellery Designers by:

Annie Nowak

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