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Precious Metal Clay (PMC) Jewelry Making

Precious metal clay is made from mixing a particulate form of precious metals with a malleable filler that burns away during the firing process, producing the solid metallic object. It is available in copper, silver, sterling silver and gold.

A million years ago in Chemistry class, we took an old dime – the kind that still have real silver in them – and put it through some reactions to extract the pure silver. When we did, we had a tiny pile of white powder. We put this powder on a charcoal block, then used a propane torch to heat it. When it melted, the liquid form was shiny metallic liquid silver! It maintained the familiar, shiny metallic form as it cooled back into a solid.

I’m guessing it’s this powder form that is in the precious metal clay. The filler that keeps it stuck together burns away, which accounts for the mild shrinkage that occurs when its fired.

PMC does have the density and texture of clay. And just like polymer clay, you can make just about any shape. You can also use different PMC’s like gold and silver in the same piece. If you like to have a book in front of you while you work, this great book by Sue Heaser is full of tips and techniques for turning precious metal clay into beautiful pieces of jewelry:

Pros

The malleability of the clay gives you the ability to easily make objects out of precious metal that might otherwise be difficult to impossible to make with traditional metalsmithing methods.

You get to use FIRE.

Cons

Moderately expensive.

Requires a safe workplace for using a torch or kiln.

Getting Started With Precious Metal Clay

Precious metal clay is made of a particulate form of precious metals like copper, silver and gold so getting started is more expensive than other types of jewelry making. Great starter kits like this can be found at Fire Mountain Gems:

PMC jewelry starter set

Precious metal clay also requires torch- or kiln-firing. With this kit you will need to get fuel for the torch attachment that comes in the kit, and you’ll need to have a safe area in your house where you can have an open flame. Otherwise you’ll need a kiln like this one:

It’s basically an oven that can reach the much higher temperature ranges required to melt metal. We are talking hundreds to over a thousand degrees here, so you definitely need a safe work area for this. I keep my kiln in my garage (and I don’t have flammable chemicals there.)

I already worked with ceramics and have a kiln for that. There’s just something kind of magical about putting in a dull, whitish-grayish shape into the kiln then taking out a bright shiny metal one!

You can use PMC with gemstones, though PMC does shrink during the firing process so there is a technique to doing it right. Not all gemstones can withstand the kiln temperatures.

Like anything else, it takes a patience and practice to get the hang of it – both the forming of the clay and the firing process. So it costs more and the process is more involved than other kinds of jewelry making, but the end result is totally worth it!

Looking For More?

Check out our Pinterest Board of some amazing seed bead creations from master artists.

There are as many styles of jewelry making as there are styles of jewelry. You can learn more about each of them here:

Bead Jewelry

Polymer Clay

Seed Bead Weaving

Wire Wrapping

Chain Maille

Metal Stamping

Metalsmithing