Precious mettle

5th October 2007 at 01:00
A versatile new material that allows pupils studying jewellery-making to realise their most creative dreams has revolutionised Jeff Draisey's classes

Jewellery making using traditional silver can be a challenge pupils struggle to make the creative pieces they plan on paper because the sheet and wire is not as easy to work as it could be. When I introduced a jewellery course as a GCSE option last year, using precious metal clay (PMC), this material has added a whole new dimension to my teaching of jewellery-making.

PMC is a mix of pure silver, water and organic binder, and has the advantage over normal silver that, up until the work is fired, it can be reshaped or re constituted by adding water. Hence the pupil can start again if the design isn't quite right, and this allows for a good deal of experimentation and risk-taking.

PMC costs more than conventional silver wire and sheet typically around Pounds 16 for a 9g bag, with which you could probably get as far as making a pendant and some earrings. Normal silver would be about two-thirds the price, but as PMC can be reshaped, there is no waste and the setting-up costs are relatively low.

In terms of firing pupils' imaginations, it's magical and versatile. They are making rings, necklaces, brooches, and there are things you can do with it that you can't do with normal silver.

A good one to try is a silver leaf, where you mix clay to liquid and paste it over the leaf. In the kiln, the leaf burns away, but the resulting silverware is very leaf-like. This idea inspired one girl in my class to collect twigs and turn them into a silver necklace.

I've taught jewellery-making for a while, but my interest in the subject was rekindled by discovering PMC on a training course at the Mid-Cornwall School of Jewellery. I was the first teacher in the country to use it, and once I had, I introduced jewellery as a GCSE option. Currently, only about 20 schools are doing this, according to PMC Studio, the UK importer of the material.

I've had experience of teaching jewellery-making before in another school, but it wasn't as successful, as normally pupils would have to learn a wide range of skills in order to make anything worthwhile and, more importantly, they have trouble translating their ideas into reality. This can often end up with pupils making "teacher-led" outcomes rather than exploiting their own creativity.

For the first time, pupils can create what they have visualised. I believe that the work produced at Balcarras is of a commercial quality, suitable for assaying and hallmarking, and pupil reaction has been favourable at all key stages

Jeff Draisey is head of design and technology at Balcarras School, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. jmd@balcarras.gloucs.sch.uk

All that glistens

Precious metal clay (PMC) is a relatively new material, developed and patented in the 1990s by the Mitsubishi Materials Corporation in Japan.

It is available in fine silver (0.999%) and 22 carat gold.

Microscopic particles of silver or gold are mixed with a moist binder to create a material that has the feel and working properties of modelling clay.

Once fired, the non-toxic binder burns away and the water evaporates, leaving a "pure" silver product. Fired PMC work can be polished, soldered or enamelled like any other silver item, and it is extremely versatile.

There are only two organisations in the country running courses on PMC: the Mid-Cornwall School of Jewellery, in Par, Cornwall (http:mcsj.co.uk), which I attended, and the PMC Studio, Amersham, Buckinghamshire (www.pmc.vpam.co.ukindexasp). Both of these cater for amateur individuals. However, I am now planning to run some courses of my own in the next academic year, with the focus on teaching PMC to school groups.

For more information visit www.pmcguild.com

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