The Versatility of Metal Clay: Making a Customized Rosary

I made a rosary for a very dear friend's birthday about a year ago, and I believe I learned as much making it as I have in any other jewelry-making endeavor I've ever had. I am not Catholic, so I had to do a bit of research to learn how to make a rosary (easily done through an online search)–which was a fascinating discovery itself. The more I learned about what I was making and the symbolism behind each part, the more special it became to make such a meaningful gift for a loved one.

 

This rosary by G Style Designs features a bronze clay cross and heart center stamped to match.

The Elements of a Rosary
There are five beaded portions of the rosary (called decades), which are made of wire-wrapped loops and fifty-nine beads, six or nine of which should be different, depending on your design choice. Each bead represents a specific prayer, so it can be nice to choose gemstones or other beads that have symbolism or meaning behind them, like pearls for purity or the wearer's gemstone, for example. I used small round and larger faceted black onyx beads because mine was for a gentleman.

 

An ornate, fine silver (formerly PMC) cross like this one by LH Collection could be an ideal one-of-a-kind rosary component.

There are two other specific components required to make a true rosary–the cross or crucifix and the station or center (often a patron saint medal or Holy Family medal). Both of these items are available from some jewelry-making stores and online, but I believe they are ideal candidates for creating with metal clay, which I did for my friend.

Custom Metal Clay Rosary Components: The Center
It was the versatility of metal clay that allowed me to make the custom rosary components exactly as I wanted them to be, resulting in an even more personalized gift. The molding, texturing, and carving options available with metal clay make it an ideal medium for such personalized pieces. For my friend's rosary's center, I wanted a patron saint medal. There are lists of dozens if not hundreds of patron saints (also found online) that can be featured as the center of a rosary, to personalize the rosary for the recipient. For example, my friend is a jewelry designer, so I wanted to use a medal of Saint Eligius, who is the patron saint of jewelers and goldsmiths, among other things.

 
Paula's rosary center monogram

If a particular saint medal can't be found for your needs, making a mold of something similar or carving a representative design in metal clay provides a solution for that customization. Hearts and monograms are also popular choices for rosary centers. My friend Paula McDowell, owner of Fire Dance Jewelry and the president of my local metal clay guild L'Esprit du Metal in Louisiana, recently made a rosary for her god-daughter and niece's First Communion. Paula used PMCPro to create a monogrammed centerpiece stamped with the child's initials on the front and the date of the event on the back, securing the beautiful piece's place as a family heirloom.

Custom Metal Clay Rosary Components: The Cross

 

This is the only photo I took while making my friend's rosary–the cross, fresh out of the kiln, before burnishing.

There are even more metal clay possibilities for the cross component of rosaries. I created a very textured cross by pressing a combination of metal clay and thick metal clay slip into a heavily textured mold. The design in the mold made the two side edges of the cross sort of thin and irregular, which I expected to be fragile after firing, so I removed them. That lead to the scalloped edges of my cross. I liked the rustic look and feel of it–especially since it was for a man–so I went with it. (I inserted a fine silver jump ring in the top before firing so I could attach the cross to the rosary chain later.)

 

Paula's Celtic rosary cross

Paula created a more formal and traditional Celtic cross (also with PMCPro) with a bezel-set peridot in the center and an organic texture on the back. She also created a patina on the resulting fine silver cross. With metal clay, whether you build and carve, stamp, or impress in a mold the cross for your rosary, it will be a one-of-a-kind part of a highly personal jewelry piece–ideally achieved through the versatility of metal clay.

 

To learn more about the versatility (and magic!) of metal clay, check out Easy Metal Clay (digital or print). It's a comprehensive metal clay resource for everyone, beginners and accomplished metal clay users alike. It's packed full of projects as well as tips, techniques, and information for using metal clay of all kinds–bronze, gold, silver, copper, even steel–from the introductory basics to advanced metal clay nuances and special techniques.

You'll find projects and more from top names in the metal clay world, such as Arlene Mornick, Tammy Honaman, Hadar Jacobson (including a great piece about unique metal-clay-related uses for tools and everyday items), and more. Plus there's a great Clay by Clay metal clay chart in Easy Metal Clay that will help you keep track of all the kinds of metal clay, what uses they're best suited for, and how to fire them. That chart alone is worth the price of the special issue!  

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