Good News and Bad News: Fixing Broken Metal Clay Jewelry

You want the bad news first?

I took a very fun metal clay class with the fabulous Donna Lewis in Tucson many years ago. (It doesn't sound bad at all so far, does it?) One of the pieces I made was a ring, even though we were told we shouldn't make rings because the shrinkage factor made it too hard to get a good fit. (Remember, this was probably six or seven years ago, before so many smart metal clay artists figured out rules and guidelines and tips and tricks to figure out the shrinkage factor.) But I wanted to make a ring, and I'm not so good at being told I can't do something, and Donna is a patient and generous teacher . . . so I did it anyway.

I used a cap off a water bottle as my ring form, thinking that with the percentage of shrinkage I expected, it would probably fit well enough after firing–and if it was still too big, I'd just snip the band and make it an adjustable ring. Sounds reasonable enough! I used an antique concave button as my mold to make a gorgeous detailed ring design, joined the design and the band with metal clay slip, and sent it off to the kiln when it was all hard and dry.

 

The next morning, I was thrilled with my ring–though it was gigantic. The band didn't shrink much at all, so I cut it and squeezed the two halves of the band together, overlapping them and making it into an adjustable band. It worked perfectly and I showed off my ring the whole rest of the day, probably a little too smug about making a ring when I was told not to. (You see where this is going, I bet!)

That night at an industry event, my then-boss asked how my class was and I was so excited to show him my ring, I clapped my hands–and one side of the band broke right off in my hand.

Fortunately, like I said before, it was gigantic, and the remaining half of the band was still enough to go almost all the way around my finger, so I kept wearing that ring. Because I love-love-loved it. I'd combined my love of antique buttons with my love of metal clay, so it was very special to me. I wore it a few more weeks until one day, the other side of the band broke off, too. I guess the stress of bending it when I cut the band and squeezed it smaller made the join too weak. Sigh.

Ready for the good news? (Me too!)

Fast forward a few years to a discussion with some metal clay jewelry artists. We were sharing ideas about repairing metal clay jewelry, recycling projects gone wrong to reclaim the silver (or the clay, depending upon its stage), etc., and one of them suggested I just attach the decorative ring top to a new metal clay band and fire it again. I don't have a kiln (hear that, Santa??) so that wasn't an option at the time, but I tucked it away for later. I'd already recycled the pieces of the band long ago, but I wasn't willing to part with the design portion, knowing I'd do something with it, someday.

 
Copper and Silver Metal Clay Linked Bracelet
How-to Project by Arlene Mornick

Now the even better news: I was almost asleep the other night when I woke up with an epiphany, out of the blue. I could simply make a new ring band out of silver or fine silver and then solder the ring design onto the band. Easy! (And duh! Why didn't I think of that sooner?)

Fired Metal Clay Is Metal

For a few years now I've admired the way some metal clay artists approach fired metal clay pieces as simply metal pieces. Making that mental transition opens the way for all kinds of fun metalsmithing techniques to be applied to fired metal clay creations (which are then fine silver, after all–or whatever metal clay you used). It can be hammered and forged; it can be textured; if it's fine silver, it can be fused to other fine silver; and it can be soldered! Metal is metal, after all. And after it's fired, metal clay is metal, too.

So I soldered the ring design portion onto its new band. I simply ignored the fact that it was once metal clay and soldered it to the new band as if it had been a piece of sheet metal that I'd forged and textured into that design (though I used a little extra flux, just to be safe). It worked perfectly, and my ring is now a ring once more.

If you'd like to try your hand at metal clay jewelry making, traditional metalsmithing, or a combination of the two, dip your toe in the water with a project tutorial from top jewelry-making designers and experts. They're an affordable and manageable way to try a new technique, one technique at a time. See all project downloads in the Jewelry Making Daily Shop!

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