Metalworkers and jewelers alike know how soft and malleable gold is. There is special clay that takes this characteristic to the next level, not just for gold, but other metals as well – such as silver, bronze, copper, and steel.
Precious metal clay was invented in 1990 by Japanese metallurgist, Masaki Morikawa. He discovered that gold and or silver particles could be merged with an organic binder – basically like very expensive Play-Doh. After forming the clay to a desired shape or pattern, it can be fired in a kiln. This has two effects on the clay. First, the organic binder is burned away, leaving only the metal behind. Second, the remaining metal particles become sintered (fused together) – creating a solid metal piece. However, since the organic binder is burned away, the final piece is usually 8-30% smaller, depending on the type of clay used.
There are two main brands of clay: Precious Metal Clay (PMC) and Art Clay. Each brand produces several types of clay that each have unique metal/binder ratios and required firing temperatures. Each is also sold in a variety of forms, including:
• Lump – like it sounds, it’s a lump of clay sold in an airtight container to keep from drying.
• Syringe – a small syringe that evenly distributes measured amounts of clay
• Slip – a softer, thinner version of the normal clay
• Paper – thin, pressed sheets with most of the moisture removed, making them more rigid.
Precious metal clay is mostly used by artisans and jewelers to easily craft new jewelry or accent other larger pieces because it is much easier to work with than using solid metal. It’s a great medium for adding sparkling filigree on a vase, shaping an intricate pendant, and more.