What is Metal Clay?

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When you think of how jewellery is made, the image that springs to mind is molten metal being poured into moulds or sheet metal being cut and filed to shape.  So the thought that jewellery can be made with a clay that turns into metal all seems a bit like something out of a sci-fi novel!  If you think about it though, pottery is made from clay, fired and then turns into a hard substance and that's very similar to what happens to metal clay except you end up with a precious metal piece of jewellery.

In 1990 the first silver metal clay was launched to market by a Japanese company who had discovered a way of extracting silver from old computer boards, photography products etc., by a process of separating the silver from other materials.  Once extracted the silver was then ground down to exceptionally fine particles to which they added non-toxic organic binders and water to form a clay.  The forerunners of metal clay were manufactured by Mitsubishi Materials Corporation  making "PMC" (Precious Metal Clay) and Aida Chemicals who followed with "Art Clay Silver".  These two brands are still the most well known but every year there are new products available, not only in silver but now in gold, copper, bronze and even Sterling. 

One of the most important things to understand about silver metal clay, is that it's 99.9% silver unlike Sterling Silver that makes up the majority of silver jewellery on the market that has 92.5% purity (7.5% made up of different alloys).  The different in the end product is that Fine Silver, which is what 99.9% silver is called, is not as strong as Sterling silver but because it has a much higher purity, it doesn't tarnish as quickly as Sterling.  Both silvers can be hallmarked - Sterling has a 925 hallmark and Fine Silver is hallmarked with 999.

One of the main attractions of working with metal clay is that it is maleable, flexible and can be carved, cut and texturised to make wonderful creations that might be more difficult with sheet metal.  The other main draw of this product is that you don't need a workshop full of expensive tools to use it.  You can start very simply, with a limited amount of small handheld tools to produce a beautiful piece of jewellery.

So how do you make jewellery with metal clay?

When you open the packet you'll find what looks like a greyish white lump of clay - a bit like a child's modelling clay or builder's putty.  It can be rolled out, shaped, cut, texturised and sculpted into any form you want.  However, the clay reacts to the air and atmospheric heat so as you work, the clay starts to dry out.  It can be continually rehydrated with a small spritz of water to extend working time.  Once you have made your piece of jewellery, it need to be set aside to dry thoroughly before firing to turn it into metal.  One of the huge draws of silver metal clay is that it can be fired with a hand held cooking type torch, on a gas hob, camping stove or in a kiln.  Over the next few weeks, I'll add blogs that look at each stage in detail so be sure to check back!

Once fired, you have beautiful silver, copper or bronze jewellery that simply needs to be polished and enjoyed!


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