Similar to clay, precious metal clay (also known as PMC) is an ideal medium for arts and crafts and is often used for bead making. Made up of small metal particles including platinum, gold or silver and mixed with organic binding, the clay becomes metal when in contact with heat from a kiln or torch. Similar to soft clay, PMC can be shaped and moulded by hand to create various shapes and sizes. Due to its malleable qualities, PMC is also perfect for etching, stamping or using other techniques to produce intricate designs. Once the clay has been dried, it is then heated in high temperature conditions, which burn away the binding solution to leave just the condensed metal particles. During the firing process PMC will decrease in size creating even finer and more intricate looking detail.
The longer you work with precious metal clay, the more comfortable and confident you can become with the medium. Designs can get more intricate and complex and new techniques can be introduced for fresh and interesting bead textures and shapes.
Making beads from PMC
To create beads from PMC, a placeholder for the centre of the bead is required to allow it to keep its shape throughout the process. Cork, clay or toothpicks are effective tools for this, as they will burn away during the firing to leave the bead hollow.
Form the bead around the placeholder, remembering to have an overlap on the edges which can be sealed together to create a strong bond.
If wanting to press a design into the PMC this should be done before the PMC is used around the placeholder. Alternatively, etching can be done once the bead blank is in place. Embellishments can then be added to the bead, from PMC paper shapes or additional pieces of rolled out PMC. Once you are happy with the bead it can be dried before going into a kiln, where the placeholder will be burnt away leaving you with an attractive, lightweight and unique bead design which can be polished to a finish of your choice.
You can create unique and interesting beads by experimenting with shape, size or design. The finishes of metal clay beads can also be experimented with to create a combination of high gloss or matte tones. Whatever type of beading style you prefer working with, precious metal clay offers freedom and choice over designs.
An interesting and distinctive looking bead to create is the tubular PMC bead. Using the same process with a wooden placeholder, metal cay can be rolled out and formed around this but moulded into a tubular shape and then decorated with end caps. Adorn the clay with printing, etching, texturing or embellish with more precious metal clay and set with stones to create an individual and unique design. Once dried, sand down ensuring there are no holes or gaps in the bead, if so then fill with paste and leave to dry once more. The firing process will again burn away the placeholder to leave a perfectly formed hollow tubular bead. Finish the piece with polishing and embellish with any additional stones or gems before threading the beads to create intricate and interesting earrings, bracelets or necklaces.