First of let’s just explain what this magical material is and how it came about. Precious metal clay is made up of tiny particles of metal suspended in water and an organic binder. It was invented in Japan in 1990 by a metallurgist called Masaki Morikawa. PMC was originally just available in two grades, however it has been updated many times since the early days. It is often referred to as PMC or Art Clay. In fact, Art Clay is a brand name for a rival Japanese company that have produced numerous different types of clay, including base metal clays.
There are a lot of different types available across the two brands and if this is a subject you take to, then it is worth trying them all to see which you like the best. Each has subtle differences in working quality.
Originally it was only available in lump form; pure silver or 22k gold. However it is now available in base metals; copper and bronze, silver alloys and as paper and sheet. Although similar there are marked differences between working with silver, alloys, papers and the base metal clays.
It has been around as a medium for making jewellery since it was invented but it has only really gained recognition in recent years. I went on a three day course in London 15 years ago. At that time the company that ran the course was the only place that you could buy the clay. There was also a small team of very skilled specialist tutors teaching. It was not widely known back then that precious metal clay even existed. Things have come a long way since then. That company had sole rights to sell the clay in the UK. However they have since lost their exclusive rights and sadly the company no longer exists. Nowadays it is possible to buy the clay from almost all bullion dealers. There’s also a plethora of dedicated internet websites selling clays and tools.
In terms of metal working; precious metal clay or PMC, is a young material. It has benefitted from a great deal of exposure from magazines. Many jewellery making magazines had to focus solely on working with beads until precious metal clay came along. It is a medium that has made jewellery making available to a wider audience than its traditional counterpart. Mainly due to the need for simpler tools and the different process involved to work with it.
The process of working with PMC falls in to 4 stages:
As I mentioned earlier, this is a material that is relatively new in the scheme of the ancient tradition of silversmithing & jewellery making. It has revolutionised jewellery making and made it accessible to many more individuals because of the way it can be worked. If you pick up any jewellery making magazine there will no doubt be a ‘make in an afternoon’ (?!) PMC project in there and it will be hailed as the best thing since sliced bread and very easy.
Some of us here will have ‘had a go’ at jewellery making and know that there is not much about it that is either quick or easy. The same can be said of PMC. It is just different – and like any new satellite subject within the jewellery making field it needs to be studied, learned and tried and has its own set of good & bad points. So I’ve laid them out here for us to consider before we all rush off and abandon our existing jewellery making expertise:
As you can see, the cons do slightly outweigh the pros! But not by much and your own personal working practice may dispel some of the above immediately.
With the above pros & cons in mind it’s worth pointing out that it has been hailed as the new wonder material for jewellers and to an extent it is too good to be true. I suspect this is mainly by the ‘marketeers.’ After all they are trying to sell a metal that is more expensive than the metal it is made from! But the clay has got its place, it is up to you to recognise the appropriate use of it and when traditional metals would be easier and cheaper to work with.
I do firmly believe that we cannot turn away from the traditional skills used for silversmithing and jewellery making. I have had experience of precious metal clay items breaking. These have often been items with components that undergo structural stress. But not always! Additionally, I often see projects in magazines using precious metal clay to replicate wire projects. Wire would be infinitely more appropriate and easier to use in most cases. After asking myself why this more awkward material has been recommended for this; I’ve realised that these projects are aimed at individuals who have never worked silver in the traditional way and don’t have this skill base.
Learning how to work with precious metal clay will definitely open up many new design opportunities for you. So by all means, give precious metal clay a go. Remember that it is not necessarily a ‘stand-alone’ material. If you can combine it with your usual metal work it will be a great addition to your jewellery.
Silverpetal offers a Precious Metal Clay for Beginners course. This is a one day course to get you started and is well worth attending if you’ve never tried using clay before.