Going Gatsby: Making Faux Intaglios with Polymer Clay or Epoxy Clay

Have you seen the new Great Gastby movie yet? I knew the story really well already, so it was just basically eye candy for me. The homes, the clothes, and ohmygoodness, the jewelry! 

 

Tiffany & Co. famously created the jewelry for the movie–the feet-long strands of pearls, tassel necklaces, intaglio rings, and other Art Deco treasures, like those in their Ziegfeld collection. Since then, fashion magazines and fashion-savvy high-end retailers have been packed with Gatsby-esque jewelry. I suspected this would happen and I've been looking forward to seeing how fashion and jewelry designers would run with the Gatsby theme for months.

What I didn't expect was how much of the focus would be on intaglios. With the popularity of cameos in recent years, I guess it's only natural that the pendulum would swing back and their dimensional opposite, intaglios, have their turn in the spotlight.

 

I also didn't expect to like them so much. I've always thought of intaglios as dark, opaque stones in masculine jewelry. Tiffany's intaglio jewelry is in onyx, albeit with pretty flower designs. But in a magazine ad for Elizabeth Locke Jewels at Neiman Marcus, I saw mouth-watering intaglios in bright, juicy colors that changed my mind. My first thought was how vibrant and unique the carved stones looked, how fresh compared to faceted stones and the big transparent cabochons that have been en vogue in recent years. 

And for some crazy reason, my second thought was, "I could make colorful intaglios in polymer clay!"

Intaglios are carved images that are concave designs, as opposed to raised convex designs like cameos. So with the pretty design impressions and the bright colors I saw in the intaglio jewelry ad, polymer clay came to mind immediately. But I'm not much for carving, so how to make the designs in the clay? "Again with the rubber stamps!" my muse says with a huff. Yes indeed. Or buttons! Anything you can make a mold or impression out of, you could press into the clay to make intaglio-style designs. I used rubber stamps, buttons, and some of the texture sheets in my metal clay box.

 
 

Here's how to do it: Roll out a clay sheet; about 1/4" in thickness should be good to start with, depending on the depth of your design stamp. Lubricate the stamp lightly with just a little olive oil, Badger Balm, or other lubricant, like you would if you were working with metal clay and texture sheets. Trim your stamped clay to fit into whatever bezel you're making or using for it, and bake/cure the clay according to the manufacturer's instructions. If you use polymer clay, use glue to secure the intaglio piece into the bezel.

Alternative technique: If you're using an oven-proof bezel, fill it with polymer clay and press the lubricated stamp into the clay. You might need to smooth out, slice off, or fill in some of the edges of the clay to better fit the bezel (see the star stamp on the right) or try again with a little less clay if there's too much spillover. Then bake/cure the clay in place. Secure with glue if you need to after the clay is cured, if the bezel doesn't hold it securely.

 

Another option (my favorite) is to use epoxy clay instead of polymer clay; Martha Stewart's new jewelry-making line at Michael's features epoxy clay in lots of gorgeous colors reminiscent of gemstones. The advantage with epoxy clay is there's no glue and no baking required–just fill the mold with epoxy clay, stamp into it with a lightly lubricated stamp, touch up if needed, and let dry/cure. The epoxy clay's brilliant adhesive super powers will adhere it to the bezel, and it will cure fully in less than 24 hours. Voila! Faux intaglio. Down here in Louisiana, we'd probably call that "intaglieaux." (Note: They're really hard to photograph, but really easy to do. Great projects to do with kids this summer, too! And if you mess up, just take out the clay, roll it back up, and try again. You have about 30 minutes of work time with epoxy clay and indefinite time with polymer clay.)

 

It has been exciting to me to see more and more jewelry artists start to use polymer clay in truly spectacular jewelry designs in recent years. It's such a versatile, user-friendly, inexpensive medium, it really allows for limitless creativity and experimental design. Polymer clay is especially good for mimicking the look of gemstones when the gem itself is either unavailable, unaffordable, unsuitable for whatever reason, or simply doesn't exist! To learn more unique ways to use polymer clay in jewelry, check out two inspiring polymer clay art jewelry resources like Mixed Media: How to Make Polymer Clay Beads and Enlightened Polymer Clay. Both are on sale now in our Summer Sidewalk Sale.

Resources:

bezels, bee and flower brass stamping: NunnDesign.com
epoxy clay: Martha Stewart Crafts by Plaid at Michael's (Want a coupon for it?)
star stamp: Hampton Art Stamps
button and other metal stamping: vintage finds

P.S. If you're going to use rubber stamps or other purchased items to make your intaglio designs, first read our free copyright guide, Copyright 101 for Jewelry Artists, to make sure you are in the clear. 

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