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Metal clay pressure setting

Create this stunning necklace using metal clay and wire

I have a collection of unique large gemstones. Every time I purchased another gemstone, I asked myself what I planned to do with it. From this collection I had two stones that were always displayed on my work bench. Every day I pondered them, considering their design possibilities. I knew if I kept my ideas percolating long enough, I would create just the right setting for the stones. 

SUPPLIES

Pendant 1 1⁄2 x 1 1⁄4 in. (3.8 x 3.2 cm)

Chain 19 in. (48 cm)

  • 15 x 25 mm gemstone
  • clasp
  • 8 1⁄2 in. (21.6 cm) 14-gauge 
  • fine-silver wire, dead-soft
  • 30–32 8 mm inside- diameter rings, 14-gauge fine silver
  • 25 g metal clay
  • acrylic roller
  • airtight lidded container
  • bench block (optional)
  • Blazer Micro Torch (2 torches optional)
  • bowl filled with water for quenching
  • brass hammer, 4 oz.
  • cardstock
  • chainnose pliers
  • circle cutters, 13 mm and 
  • 11 mm diameter
  • 2 craft sticks
  • double horn anvil
  • emery boards, various grits
  • fiber grip cross-locking tweezers
  • fine-point permanent marker
  • flexible cutting sheet
  • hand drill with 1⁄8–in. (3 mm) 
  • drill bit
  • kiln
  • kiln block
  • liver of sulfur (optional)
  • metal files, various cuts
  • nonstick work surface
  • olive oil in spray dispenser
  • #2 pencil
  • round bezel mandrel
  • rubber block
  • Solderite pad
  • standard roundnose and 
  • large roundnose pliers
  • steel beading awl
  • steel ruler
  • 2 texture sheets
  • tissue blade
  • wire cutters
  • X-acto knife

INSTRUCTIONS

 
Metal clay pressure setting a
Photo a

Pendant frame

1. Select a stone that has deep side angles so that the stone will be visible within the metal clay frame.

2. On a piece of cardstock, draw and cut out your frame design. Measure your stone, and transfer that measurement onto the template. Use an X-acto knife to cut out the opening for the stone (PHOTO A). Since the clay will shrink with firing, cutting out an exact or slightly larger opening will ensure that the frame fits the stone snugly.

Metal clay pressure setting b
Photo b

3. Lightly oil the cutting sheet, roller, and your hands. Ball up the clay, and flatten it into a round patty (PHOTO B).

Metal clay pressure setting c
Photo c

Roll out the clay between two craft sticks (PHOTO C). Place the rolled-out clay between two texture sheets.

Metal clay pressure setting d
Photo d

To make deep, even impressions in the clay, press down on the texture sheets with a flat object, such as a bench block (PHOTO D).

Metal clay pressure setting e
Photo e

4. Place the textured clay on the cutting sheet. Position the template on the clay (PHOTO E), and cut out the frame using a tissue blade and X-acto knife. Ball up the unused clay, and store it in an airtight container.

5. Using your fingers, pick up the frame, smooth the edges, and place it on a Solderite pad. Let it dry completely.

Metal clay pressure setting f
Photo f

Metal clay rings

1. Using the leftover clay, repeat step 3 of the frame.

2. Using the 13 mm circle cutter (PHOTO F), cut as many circles as possible from the textured clay. Then use the smaller cutter to cut a hole in the 13 mm circles.

3. Ball up the remaining clay, and repeat steps 1 and 2 until you have used it all to make approximately 30 rings.

4. Using your fingers, pick up the rings, and smooth the edges. Place the rings on the Solderite pad. Let the rings dry completely.

Firing the frame and rings

Fire the frame and rings in a clay kiln, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Let them cool completely before removing

Metal clay pressure setting g
Photo g

Filing and texturing

1. Using a variety of metal files and emery boards, smooth any rough edges on the frame (PHOTO G). The inner opening may need to be enlarged and the edges filed to match the angle of the stone.

Metal clay pressure setting h
Photo h

A small brass hammer and files are used to clean up the inner edges of the frame (PHOTO H).

Metal clay pressure setting i
Photo i

Take your time in this step so that the stone fits into the frame (PHOTO I).

Metal clay pressure setting j
Photo j

2. Place a metal clay ring on a round bezel mandrel. Brace the mandrel against a rubber block to absorb the shock of hammering and texturing the edges of the ring (PHOTO J). This will also work harden the metal clay ring. Repeat with all the metal clay rings.

Metal clay pressure setting k
Photo k

Setting the prongs

1. Using a pencil, mark two holes adjacent to each corner of the stone, and two additional holes for the chain connection (PHOTO K).

Metal clay pressure setting l
Photo l

2. Drill each hole with a hand drill fitted with a 1⁄8-in. (3 mm) drill bit. This will make a hole (PHOTO L) through which a piece of 14-gauge fine-silver wire will pass.

Metal clay pressure setting m
Photo m

3. Cut a 2–21⁄8-in. (5–5.4 cm) piece of fine-silver wire. The length will depend on the size of your stone. Make sure each end has a blunt flush cut. Using your roundnose pliers, bend the piece of wire in half. The curve of the bend must line up with the holes drilled at the corners of the frame (PHOTO M). Repeat to make three more U-shaped pieces of wire.

Metal clay pressure setting n
Photo n

4. Place the bent wires in the drilled holes (PHOTO N). These wires will become the prongs that hold the stone in place. With the cut ends of the wire facing upward, push the bend of each wire as close to the back of the frame as possible. Make sure that each of the wires is the same length. Even them if necessary. If the holes for the wire prongs are snug, ream them with a steel beading awl.

Metal clay pressure setting o
Photo o

5. Place the frame on a kiln block with the wires facing upward (PHOTO O). To ball up the wire ends, the entire piece needs to be heated to a dull orange glow. Using one or two torches that are set to a bushy annealing flame, slowly heat the piece. When the piece is glowing, adjust one of the torches to a pointy fusing flame. Position the torch so that the flame is pointing diagonally across the frame to ball up one wire of the prong that is farthest away from you. Ball up one wire at a time. Turn the kiln block to repeat this process on each prong setting and all the wire ends. Do not direct the flame at the wire that is closest to you. This will overheat and melt the frame. Use fiber grip tweezers to pick up the hot frame to prevent burning your fingers. Quench the piece in a bowl of cold water.

Metal clay pressure setting p
Photo p

Assembly

You may make your own or purchase 30–32 8 mm inside-diameter, 14-gauge fine-silver rings.

1. Open two of the fine-silver rings. Slide an open ring through a hole in the corner of the frame, and attach a metal clay ring. Close the ring. Use another fine-silver ring to attach a second metal clay ring. Repeat on the other corner.

2. Using the pointed tip of a tweezers, etch a channel in the kiln block wide enough to hold the frame and rings in place during the fusing process (PHOTO P). Make sure that the fine-silver rings are laying flat on the block, and the split in the rings is facing away from you. Fuse the rings. Quench the piece in cold water.

Metal clay pressure setting q
Photo q

3. Using the brass hammer and double horn anvil, shape and texture the edges and sides of the four wire prongs (PHOTOS Q AND R). Flatten the prongs to prevent them from sliding back through the holes in the frame.

Metal clay pressure setting r
Photo r

4. Place the frame back on the kiln block, and re-anneal the prongs with the torch. Heat the prongs to a dull glow, but do not overheat the piece or it will melt. Quench the piece in cold water.

Metal clay pressure setting s
Photo s

5. Pull the U-shaped prongs back through the holes in the frame until the balled ends butt up against the front of the frame. Place the stone in the frame, back side up (PHOTO S).

Metal clay pressure setting t
Photo t

Using your fingers, fold the prongs over, and snug them up to the stone (PHOTO T).

Metal clay pressure setting u
Photo u

6. Using a pair of large roundnose pliers, pull the opposite corner prongs toward each other until there is a slight resistance (PHOTO U). The prongs will still be loose and will not hold the stone in place.

Metal clay pressure setting v
Photo v

To tighten the prongs, use your chainnose pliers to squeeze each prong near the base of the frame (PHOTO V). This will lock the prongs into place.

7. Complete the chain by connecting the remaining fine-silver rings and metal clay rings. Attach a clasp. Fuse the fine-silver rings.

8. To achieve the patinas on the necklaces shown, use a cold liver of sulfur solution. Rinse the necklace in a cold baking soda solution to neutralize the patina.

Tip!

DESIGNER’S NOTE: 

I use some brand-specific tools and materials in my workshop. These include:

  • PMC3 — the clay’s specific shrinkage rate allowed me to create a frame that fits snugly around a stone. I fire my clay at 1650º F for two hours for durability.
  • Blazer Micro Torch — the flame can be adjusted from a bushy annealing flame to a pointy fusing flame. The temperature reaches 1800º F. Fine-silver wire melts at 1761º F.
  • Swanstrom pliers — the ends of these roundnose pliers are blunt and will not mar the surface of the gemstone. These heavy-duty pliers are sturdy enough to easily bend 14-gauge wire.

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