Building a layered pendant

Building a layered pendant

People frequently ask about the steps involved in making some of the silver pieces in my collection.  Are they cast?  Do I buy molds?  Do I solder pieces together?  Where do I get the parts? First of all I use a medium known as metal clay (I use a precious metal version made with fine silver.) This “clay” consists of pure silver (a.k.a. fine silver) in powder form, an organic binder, and water.   Together these three ingredients behave like clay  (a very fast drying clay, by the way, so I have to work pretty quickly.) 

In order to make pendants like the one shown above (you can click the image to enlarge it) I hand sculpt each component out of the clay.  The individual pieces can then be fused together by using watered down clay as “glue.”  In the case of this pendant I also paint on branches with thicker liquid clay.

Components of a pendant made in metal clay
Once the piece is done, I let it dry completely.  At that point I can file down, or carve out, whatever needs to go (excess “glue”, uneven clay, etc.).  When the piece is as “clean” as I can get it, I fire it in a kiln at 1600 degrees for a couple of hours.  The binder that makes the clay “claylike” burns away and I’m left with solid silver.  The piece will have shrunk about 10 – 15%. Polishing, and antiquing to bring out the details, completes the piece.

And there you have it … mystery solved (though to me it still feels like magic every time!)

Side note: The shape of the background on the finished piece shown above may be recognizable to some of you, especially if you have less than perfect lungs like I do.  While deciding on whether to make this pendant rectangular, or maybe more oval, my eyes fell on the asthma inhaler sitting on my desk.  The outline of the mouthpiece was a happy marriage of both shapes, so I used it as a stencil for this little pendant.  It just goes to show that inspiration really can come from just about anywhere.


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