Fine silver metal clay is a relatively new product, invented in Japan in the early 1990’s. Suspended in a clay-like material made of organic binders and water are many microscopic silver particles. These silver particles are made out of recycled industrial metals including those from film processing. Making silver jewelry out of metal clay is an environmentally friendly, non-toxic way to make silver jewelry.
After texturing with stamps and other tools, and shaping and sculpting it into the desired form, the dried clay or greenware is fired in a small electric kiln to remove the binder and fuse the metal into pure silver. During firing, as the binder holding the metal particles burns off, the particles pull together in a process called sintering. The particles fuse, and when the object cools it is solid metal.
The most important thing to know about all fine silver metal clay is that it really is metal after it has been fired. If fired at the proper temperature for long enough (about 1650 degrees for two hours) the resulting silver pieces can be forged, hammered for texture, and work-hardened for long-lasting durability and beauty. The resulting metal is a pure silver that can be hallmarked as “.999 FS”. Because fine silver metal clay contains no other metals or alloys (whereas sterling silver is an alloy containing copper and zinc), it is lighter in weight than sterling silver and does not tarnish as quickly as sterling. Finish work can include tumbling, polishing, and the application of non-toxic (but smelly) liver of sulfur for a rich surface color or patina.
I love working with fine silver metal clay, especially because, when worked with properly, it is totally non-toxic. The results are beautiful, lustrous silver that can be richly textured and shaped into all kinds of beautiful forms. By using metal clay for my silver work I am avoiding the many hazardous chemicals that jewelry designers often use in the workplace. After firing, I end up with the beauty of silver without all the heavy metals in my lungs and chemicals on my hands. The author I have been most influenced by, Kate McKinnon, has written many books on the subject of metal clay and I heartily recommend her techniques and her books, particularly her book, Sculptural Metal Clay, although I love her book, The Jewelry Architect, too.
Check out my fine silver metal clay gallery here.