Metal clay rings created with Precious Metal Clay products from Rio Grande.
Signature Element Metal Clay Project
In the words of designer, jeweler and PMC® master Tim McCreight, "Every material has its special properties and one of the tasks inherent to each of us as artists is to figure out how to make the best use of those properties." Some paintings lend themselves to watercolors, others call for oils. Some sculptures are carved in marble, others are forged from metal. This project challenges you to see Precious Metal Clay as a signature element no matter what the preferred medium may be.
Tim used PMC® with sterling silver findings to capitalize on the special properties of both silver clay and sterling silver. Get the best of both worlds by using ready-made rings and ring shanks while creating a signature element using silver PMC. PMC is terrific for making unique signature elements quickly, and sterling has great strength and a rich luster. The result? A simple but utterly unique signet ring. This project requires basic metalworking skills such as soldering and polishing.
Start by creating a simple press mold. We used a standard rubber eraser; other possible materials include linoleum, acrylic, leather or polymer clay. Each of these materials will produce its own slightly different effect on your clay. A press mold (so called because the model material is pressed into the mold) is versatile in so many ways; our mold, being rubber, will last practically forever... and it's great for producing multiples, too.
Use a small carving chisel or craft knife to carve your design into the eraser (or other mold material). Make sample pressings as you work to see how your design will look. Adjust as needed until you're satisfied with the design. If you go too far and have to start over, simply turn the eraser and begin again in a smooth area.
Note: Even after using your mold, it's never too late to make additional design adjustments or alterations in the eraser; press molds offer so much potential for creative freedom!
Once your mold is ready, lubricate it with a drop of olive oil. In the palm of your hand, roll a small pinch of silver PMC® into a ball and set it in the center of your carved mold.
Press the clay into your mold using a flat, smooth tool such as a craft stick, popsicle stick or plastic knife blade (we used one of those flat wood spoons you get with ice cream cups—such fun re-purposing things into tools, isn't it?).
Option: To put your mark indelibly on your design, use your thumb to press the clay, and leave your thumbprint to be fired into the piece, forever marking the back of your design!
Trim and tidy the edges of your design. If necessary, use abrasive paper to smooth away unwanted marks or textures.
Fire the PMC® according to the manufacturer's instructions. Because we used PMC3™, the design can be fired with any jeweler's torch—even a simple butane torch. Bring the piece to a bright-red color and hold for about two minutes.
In one version, we used a split-style ring shank.
In another version, we used a length of 6-ga. half-round sterling silver wire.
Flux both components (the shank and the design element) and be sure that the parts are properly lined up. Set solder chips on all the points of contact, and heat until the solder flows.
Patina the ring as desired with liver of sulfur, then finish and polish. Beautiful!
- Select a finished band and sand a flat spot onto which you can solder your signature design element.
- Solder your design element onto a length of square wire.
- Shape a length of half-round wire into a 'U' and solder your design element onto its ends.
- Press the wet clay of your design around your finger to give it a curve, then solder the ends of your ring shank onto the edges of the design element.
- Use a leaf to texture the design element and carve a ring shank from flattened sterling wire by filing.
- Use a small, fine-mesh fabric or metal screen to texture the design element and form a shank from heavy round sterling wire.