The Mad Scientist of Jewelry Mediums

In the 1990s, a metallurgist by the name Masaki Morikawa created a little bit of magic.  Later, Mitsubishi motors took his creation and perfected it.  The name of this amazing creation was Precious Metal Clay, it was workable like clay but when fired turned into silver metal.  Later, it was expanded into gold, copper or bronze options.  I know what you are thinking and this isn’t a fairy tale.

When I first found out about Precious Metal Clay I was intrigued and fascinated.  I had to have some of this magical substance that promised to turn from dirt to silver at the touch of a butane torch in my hands.  I dropped a considerable amount of cash for a full time college student on a starter kit and an extra bag of clay.  I watched a few YouTube videos and subsequently failed miserably at my first creations.

I kept trying and was able to make a few pieces I wasn’t horribly ashamed of, pieces that someone, somewhere would say, “Oh that’s artsy/eclectic/unique” and maybe purchase it.  This clay is tricky stuff and not for the short of patience.  As I quickly found out, it dries out extremely quickly, it cracks easy, it breaks if not treated properly and it seems to have a mind of its own.

I began searching for classes and came up relatively empty handed until I discovered Arts A Poppin’ on Mass Ave.  For $40 I could take a class with PMC Certified Artist and Instructor Pam Hurst of Pam Hurst Designs in Martinsville.  I signed up and anxiously awaited class.

Luckily I was in a small class downstairs of Arts a Poppin’, just myself and a young gentleman named Devin who is interested in all aspects of fashion and design.  To explain how temperamental of a medium and how quickly you must work, there was simply not time to go step-by-step.  The instructions had to be given precisely from the start.  Projects would resume under Pam’s watchful eye and the urging of “Keep moving, don’t let the clay dry!”

I settled into making a pair of earrings and a medium sized pendant for a necklace.  I got to work only to start giggling because as expected, I was still not a master of Precious Metal Clay and was about to ruin yet another piece.  Pam urged me to pick up the water pen and re-wet the clay to smooth my forming cracks.  I asked her why my water never made a difference in my clay at home which is when I learned the importance of distilled water.  YouTube did not tell me that!

After you shape your clay, in this case into a mold and then stamp it, the clay is put over a candle burner to dry.  Next, the clay is gently removed and some work needs to be done.  Edges need to be filed, pieces need to be shaped, some general etching work can be done, holes for jump rings drilled and inspection for satisfaction.  Then it’s time for the magic to happen.

Thankfully Pam didn’t let us torch the pieces ourselves, I’m pretty sure I would’ve burnt down half of Mass Ave.  Under the flame of the torch, the process begins to happen.  First, the piece catches fire as the binders burn off.  After continued coaxing you will see the piece start to shrink, then turn molten like it could melt through the firing brick at any second before magically turning into metal right before your eyes.

After the piece has been dipped into cool water, a wire brush is used to clean excess residue off and bring the metal to the surface.   The piece is now workable as metal.  No longer will it crack at the slightest pressure in the wrong place or disintegrate in front of your eyes.  You can hammer it, patina it, stain it, stamp it, punch it, bevel it and/or drop it.

Devin decided to put a black finish over his piece then shine the square pendant with a cloth, leaving only the darkness in the recessed areas for contrast.  I beveled my edges slightly and shined up the back texture, leaving the front to look slightly antiqued.

Pam showed us some of her pieces which were beautiful.  She also gave us some secret tricks for adding textures and finishes with everyday items.  I would tell you but I’d much rather Pam tell you herself.  She is apparently the Mr. Wizard of Precious Metal Clay…or should I say Mrs. Wizard!

Pam Hurst works out of a studio in Martinsville, Indiana.  She displays and sells her jewelry online and in select boutiques.  Previously, she worked as an industrial engineer specializing in metal fabrication which I feel has helped lend to her tremendous eye and talent in this field.  Her metal clay class is taught once a month, typically the third Sunday at 1 PM.  If you are interested, with enough people Pam will also come to you and host a private party.  Trust me, it’s worth it!

Pam’s website can be found at www.pamhurst.com and she can also be found on Facebook.

Arts a Poppin’ is located at 425 Massachusetts Avenue.

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4 Comments

  • In 2008, I gave a talk on the ‘History of Accessories’ at the PMC Guild’s National symposium at Purdue University. I was blown away by the versatility of the material, the resulting designs and what an enthusiastic group these artists and designers are. Indianapolis has a local chapter of PMC Guild and I think they meet at the Indianapolis Arts Center, if you are interested
    http://www.pmcguild.com/

  • In 2008, I gave a talk on the ‘History of Accessories’ at the PMC Guild’s National symposium at Purdue University. I was blown away by the versatility of the material, the resulting designs and what an enthusiastic group these artists and designers are. Indianapolis has a local chapter of PMC Guild and I think they meet at the Indianapolis Arts Center, if you are interested
    http://www.pmcguild.com/

  • I tried this medium out at a class up in Westfield a few years back. I loved it! For small pieces, yes, you can use a creme brulee torch to “cook” them. However, for most larger pieces you need a kiln…so it was a short-lived interest. It’s also a bit on the expensive side, especially if you are not a quick worker (dries up quickly). After having worked with sheet and wire metals, this was definitely a cool twist, though! No air/gas torch needed, no harsh chemicals and an imagination. If you work with polymer clay jewelry, this would be the logical next step for you.

  • I tried this medium out at a class up in Westfield a few years back. I loved it! For small pieces, yes, you can use a creme brulee torch to “cook” them. However, for most larger pieces you need a kiln…so it was a short-lived interest. It’s also a bit on the expensive side, especially if you are not a quick worker (dries up quickly). After having worked with sheet and wire metals, this was definitely a cool twist, though! No air/gas torch needed, no harsh chemicals and an imagination. If you work with polymer clay jewelry, this would be the logical next step for you.

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