When determining which type of sealer to use on your jewelry, consider the materials your piece is made out of, the desired finish, and how much wear-and-tear the piece will be subjected to. There are many different types sealants available, and each type has its own characteristics. No sealant is permanent, and many, if not all, will need to be reapplied or touched up after the piece has had extended use. Always apply sealants in an area with good ventilation to avoid inhaling fumes.
Waxes are a good sealant for most jewelry-making materials, including metal, patinas, wood, resin, paper, and polymer clay. Waxes are resilient, easy to use, and provide the most natural-looking finish, but are most durable when they are used on areas of jewelry that don’t get heavy use.
Apply a very thin coat (too thick of a coating can leave a white haze on your piece) with a soft, lint-free, cotton cloth, and let it dry. After the wax has dried, use the cloth to buff the wax to a soft sheen. Repeat the process of applying wax and then buffing until you achieve the desired surface sheen.
Common types of waxes:
- Renaissance Wax
- Johnson’s Paste Wax
- Butcher’s Wax
- Beeswax or paraffin (must be warmed)
- Carnauba Wax
CLEAR LACQUER OR VARNISH
Spray-on lacquer or varnish
If used correctly, clear spray-on lacquer or varnishes can be used to seal jewelry materials, including metal, patinas, wood, and resin. It should always be applied outdoors, with the wind against your back, and while wearing a respirator. Spray-on sealants dry hard, and can crack and scratch easily (and are hard to repair); don’t use them on jewelry that will flex often, such as bracelets and ear wires. Lacquered or varnished surfaces tend to have a plastic-like finish, so consider all your options before deciding on a spray lacquer or varnish. Matte lacquer or varnish provides the most natural surface finish, while satin and gloss add shine.
NOTE: Do not use spray sealants that have not been tested for use on polymer clay; the chemicals in the propellant can break down the clay over time, causing it to become soft and sticky.
Place your piece of jewelry on a piece of scrap paper or cardboard. Hold the spray-can 18-24 in. (or further) away from your piece of jewelry. Apply an extremely light coat, and let it dry. It’s better to apply multiple light coats than one heavy coat: You’ll achieve a more natural finish this way, and will avoid drips.
Paint-on lacquer or varnish
Paint-on lacquer and varnishes should be applied in the same way as spray-on lacquer and varnish; multiple thin coats instead of one thick coat. You may be able to see brush-strokes with paint-on lacquer and varnish, so take care when applying them.
Common types of lacquer/varnish:
- Acrylic spray lacquer/varnish
- Midas Finish Seal Lacquer
- Permalac Exterior Lacquer
- Marine (spar) Varnish
- Clear nail polish
POLYMER CLAY SEALANTS
Sealants for polymer clay must be water-based. Oil-based lacquers and varnishes contain solvents, which can degrade the polymer clay over time, causing it to become sticky. Polymer clay is plastic, so you don’t need to seal it unless you have added a surface treatment that requires sealing.
Common types of polymer clay sealants:
- Pledge Floor Finish with Future Shine (previously called Future Floor Finish)
- Varathane Diamond Polyurethane Interior (water-based)
- Paint-on sealants
- Preserve Your Memories II (PYM II)
NOTES ON SHINY FINISHES:
Sealants should not be used to replace the natural shine of metal, resin, and polymer that can be achieved only by proper finishing techniques. If you want a shiny surface, wet-sand the surface with progressively finer grits of sandpaper (from 220- or 320-grit to at least 600-grit) and then buff it with a polishing cloth, a buffing wheel with polishing compound, or a mini cotton wheel in a flex shaft. Simply applying a gloss sealant will not give you the same effect as creating a high-polish finish.