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Precious Metal Clay - Contrast and Color

Updated on March 21, 2013

Adding Color and Contrast to Precious Metal Clay

There is one thing about precious metal clay (PMC) jewelry that is important to remember, the fine silver jewelry will have little contrast when it comes out of the kiln and cleaned.

While it can be tumbled in a tumbler to give it a high gloss shine, it still needs contrast to bring out the design and give the piece depth and beauty.

I have experimented with almost every type of patina for my PMC jewelry with a great deal of success. I learned that there are many patinas that can be added to PMC that can result in a dramatic and unique piece of jewelry.

PMC is like no other material in that intricate designs can be created not possible with other metals.

I've worked with sterling silver, copper, and brass, but I always return to PMC when my creative juices start to flow and when I really want to challenge my sense of design and color.

Be my guest and learn how color can add beauty to the fine silver jewelry made from precious metal clay.

Photos: All photos were taken by me.

Pebeo Vitrea 160
Pebeo Vitrea 160

Low Fire Enamel

Pebeo Vitrea 160

There is nothing like a beautifully colored piece of fine silver jewelry. The results can be truly stunning.

One of the enamel products I use is Pebeo Vitrea 160, which can be found in hobby shops and online. It is most often used on glass, but works like a charm on precious metal clay jewelry.

This product comes in the form of a paint and is applied with a paint brush. Brushes should have small bristles so color can be applied to just the desired areas. Use natural soft bristle brushes that won't drag when color is applied.

The colored metal must dry for 24 hours before it is heated. The best part is that it is heated in a regular oven at 325 for 40 minutes. This sets the color just like regular enamel that is fired in a kiln.

Pebeo Vitrea makes it so much easier than regular enamel to put the color exactly where you want it and still have a beautiful enamel finish.

Remember use 160 for enameling jewelry.

This low fire enamel can be thinly applied so the silver shows through or thickly applied to create an opaque finish.

The intro piece was colored with Pebeo Vitrea 160.

I Tweet Pendant
I Tweet Pendant

Colored Pencils


Using colored pencils is another way to color precious metal clay jewelry. Colored pencils add a soft sheen of color to fine silver pieces.

This takes some practice and can be frustrating in the beginning. Most of the problem lies in the jewelry not being clean. Oil, grease or dirt will not allow colored pencils to adhere to metal.

Of course applying oil on areas you do not want color is fine, but make sure any oil used stays right where it should and does not slip to other areas where the pencil is to be placed.

Now the piece is ready to be colored. Prismacolors are best applied with a brush dipped in turpentine, which allows you to spread the color rather than draw the color on, which rarely works well.

Start lightly and work to a darker shade. Turpentine applied with a paint brush can be used to blend the color and different colors can be mixed together or placed on top of each other.

Colored pencil on metal is sealed by baking the piece at 275 for ten minutes, then spraying with a clear acrylic spray and baking again for the same time. This step can be repeated until the color desired is obtained.

Acrylic sprays can be toxic so I usually spray my jewelry outside and try not to breath while spraying.

Photo: One of my jewelry creations with a Prismacolor patina.

Torch-Fired Enamel Jewelry: A Workshop in Painting with Fire
Torch-Fired Enamel Jewelry: A Workshop in Painting with Fire

Enamel is one of the oldest techniques for coloring jewelry. This book will give you a good knowledge of how it is done. I have learned to use enamel as a method of coloring both metal and metal clay jewelry. It can be really stunning if done correctly.

Metal Clay and Color: Inventive Techniques from 20 Jewelry Designers
Metal Clay and Color: Inventive Techniques from 20 Jewelry Designers

There so many ways to add color to jewelry. In this books 20 designers show you how they do it. I found it interesting and inspiring. There is no end to the different techniques that can add color to jewelry. Don't forget torch firing can also add color, especially on copper.

Art Deco Fine Silver Pendant
Art Deco Fine Silver Pendant

Antique Patina

Liver of Sulfur

The patina most often used with precious metal clay jewelry is Liver of Sulfur. This product can create an antique or a colored finish depending on when it is taken out of the solution.

Liver of Sulfur comes in gel or solid form and is dissolved in very hot water. This solution smells like rotten eggs, but it does a beautiful job of creating an antique or color finish.

The fine silver piece should be thoroughly cleaned before placing it in the solution.

The solution is very cloudy, so I usually thread dental floss through an opening in the piece so that I can retrieve it out of the solution without searching for it. If there is no opening, then it is best to hold the piece with a long tweezers rather than dropping it into the solution.

When fine silver is placed in the solution it will turn a variety of colors starting with gold before it turns black. If you want an antique finish, let the piece turn black. Run it under cold water to stop the process.

After the piece is dried, it is sanded with different grades of very fine sandpaper to bring up the silver. The black stays in the crevices resulting in an antique look.

Photo: One of my jewelry creations with a Liver of Sulfur Patina

Liver of Sulfur as a Color

Quite Unique

As I said Liver of Sulfur can be used to add color to your jewelry not just a black, antique contrast. The goal is to understand the gradual changes that this medium creates as it sits in the hot solution. When you dip remember to use a piece of floss through the bale or long tweezers for dipping and removing the piece.

You can even do the whole piece of jewelry using a brush and undilulted Liver of Sulfur. Just dip your piece in boiling water, dip the brush in the water and then into the Liver of Sulfur and start brushing it onto your piece. This will ensure that you get the color you want because you are monitoring while the changes are taking place.

The first color is gold, which changes to reddish which then turns blue. What is interesting is that different parts of the piece change at different times. So you can have red left even as the silver starts turning blue.

If you catch the colors at the right time, they will be iridescent. If you wait too long the black will start taking over and the sparkle will begin to fade.

When you are satisfied, run the piece under cold water to set the color.

You need to experiment. What is nice about experimenting is that you can remove the results with a liquid silver jewelry cleaner. Torching the piece will also remove Liver of Sulfur. All that is needed is a quick firing so nothing else is changed.

You can even use a brush with the liquid cleaner and take off areas that have bled into places you did not want the color to go.

The pendant pictured here has been treated this way on the right side, while the left has been left with just the cleaned, textured silver. Normally I would not leave the silver without any contrast medium, but since I have used the colored Liver of Sulfur, I think it is more striking to leave the silver untouched.

The pendant shown here actually has iridescent colors, even though I failed to capture the shimmer in the photo the exact way it looks.

Photo: One of my jewelry creations with a colored Liver of Sulfur patina on the right.

Art Deco Triangle Pendant
Art Deco Triangle Pendant

Dark Antique Patina

Black Max

Unlike Liver of Sulfur, Black Max is a liquid solution that is applied with a brush in the crevices of a design. Best results are achieved with designs that have deep crevices.

The brush I use is reserved for only Black Max. It is a very fine thin brush that fits into very small crevices.

Black Max also smells and is more toxic than Liver of Sulfur which smells worse than it is. I use a mask when applying Black Max.

I also use a magnifying glass, because Black Max is difficult to remove if it goes in the wrong place. You can, however, always dip the piece in a silver cleaning solution and remove all the Black Max and start again.

Black Max is exactly what it sounds like - black. That is the only patina possible with this product. So if a dark black color is the desired result this is a good product to use. Since it is brushed on the results are immediate.

Photo: One of my jewelry creations with Black Max in the crevices.


Pebeo Vitrea 160

Prismacolor Colored Pencils

Liver of Sulfur

Black Max

Where to Find These Patinas

Black Max is not sold on Amazon. It is best to buy this product from a metal clay supply outlet, of which many are available online.

Opinions and Ideas Welcome

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    • indigomoth profile image


      7 years ago from New Zealand

      Some amazing ideas here. Really makes me want to give silver clay a go now. Thanks!

    • lesliesinclair profile image


      7 years ago

      I sure like these tips and instructions.

    • maijame profile image


      7 years ago

      What a great resource! I have been wanting to try PMC. Will check out your Etsy site, too.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      nice work! great lens! beautiful pieces

    • LilibeanNP profile image


      7 years ago

      I was out on your Etsy site (beautiful pieces!) and was going to ask you if you were using wax carvings to make some of them. I didn't even consider PMC! Great lens!! =)

    • Margaret Schindel profile image

      Margaret Schindel 

      7 years ago from Massachusetts

      Lovely overview of metal clay patina and color options! Well done, Harriet! :)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great lens!

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 

      7 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      How cool! I didn't know you could color PMC with colored pencils! I've only worked with it as silver and love what you've done with your coloring techniques.

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 

      7 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      Love your jewelry..blessed by a SquidAngel


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