I am a metal clay artist who makes silver jewelry. The process is quite different from traditional metal smithing. I take a lump of clay-like substance and turn it into a piece of pure silver jewelry! Here is how I do it.
How Each piece begins
What is Metal Clay?
Each and every piece of jewelry I make begins with a lump of soft, squishy precious metal clay. It feels and looks like clay, and I work it like clay but it's made of pure silver particles (all recycled) and an organic binder. The company that recycles the silver gets their silver from old silverware, as well as old x-rays and photographic negatives (so many stories are embedded in my jewelry!). They extract the pure silver particles and mix it with a plant-based organic binder and water, creating “metal clay,” which is the product I use to make my jewelry. Metal Clay was invented in Japan in the 1990s, so it is relatively new.
How I create the jewelry
I often make my own molds and press or roll the clay into them, or work freehand with the clay. Once it dries, I sand it so the edges are smooth, and add any embellishments.
becoming pure silver
Firing in the Kiln
I then take the dry piece and fire it in a tabletop electric kiln, at 1650F for two hours. During this firing process, the organic binder burns off, the silver sinters, and I am left with pure silver. Kind of like magic!
Nice n' shiny
Once it comes out of the kiln, I brush each piece with a brass brush to make the silver shine (the silver actually comes out of the kiln white, and brushing it flattens the particles, allowing the light to reflect evenly, thus making silver shine). I hammer some pieces, then put most of them in a tumbler to shine them even more.
adding the patina
For many of my pieces, I also add a patina using Liver of Sulfur (yup, that's actually what it's called! Don't worry, it has nothing to do with animals), which turns the entire piece black (or in some cases, brilliant hues). I then polish the patina off the raised surfaces with steel wool, leaving the recessed areas dark, and the raised areas shiny silver. This process makes the textures really come alive.
When the actual piece is complete, I add ear wires or chain, and solder any jump rings so that the piece is sturdy. I then give it a final polish and it's ready to be worn!
The jewelry I make is all pure silver, otherwise known as fine silver, as opposed to sterling silver, which has other metals mixed into it. The silver is 100% recycled/reclaimed, which means no new mining goes into the pieces I make. I made a short video explaining how I make my silver jewelry with metal clay. You can watch it here: