Cool Tools Blog

The Longevity of EZ960 Metal Clay, an Ongoing Experiment

I’ve always had an interest in the importance of objects, and how we can associate an object with a person, or an experience and use the object to fondly remember or access those memories. Jewelry seems an especially keen example of this, as it is worn on the body and can be directly associated with its wearer. I’ll never be able to see a simple one strand pearl necklace without recalling my maternal grandmother. I wear a necklace that used to be worn by my paternal grandmother, with whom I was very close, every single day as a way to keep her close as I reconcile my life in her absence. 

Jewelry is a powerful means of connectivity, so as a maker, it’s important to me the pieces I make can not only be cherished by those who receive or purchase them, but will last to amass association and potentially some day become an access item for someone to remember a phase of their life, or even someone close to them. I had discovered metal clay after having received an education in traditional metalsmithing, so naturally- as I was learning about its properties and ways it differed from what I knew, one of my first questions was “how strong is this stuff?” From a quick google, I saw many nay-sayers of metal clay practice, propagating the rumor that sintered metal lacks strength, and while it is molecularly different- less dense with less connectivity among particles, and as a result is less ductile and potentially not as strong as cast or machined metal, I believe it is inaccurate to claim that it lacks strength. I’m creating jewelry or components to be combined with other metalsmithing techniques to create jewelry to be worn. These pieces need to stand up to the daily wear and tear of life, and the pieces I’ve created are rising to the call and exhibiting plenty of strength. Do the pieces I make stand up to minor manipulation (for example, being sized and struck with a rawhide mallet)? Yes, and that’s all I need them to do. Would they withstand being drastically forged or drawn? Probably not, but if I was aiming to execute those techniques, I wouldn’t be using metal clay anyways, or I’d establish the form in clay prior to firing it as opposed to trying to forge or drastically manipulate it after sintering. I have tried altering the form of a bronze dish I made after firing, and it was so strong that I honestly was not able to manipulate the form as much as I would have liked to correct a distortion that occurred during firing with the tools available to me. That, alongside an ongoing experiment my husband has been unwittingly participating in, has affirmed my belief that the pieces I’m making are plenty strong enough for my needs. 

In June of 2019, I gifted my husband a ring band created from EZ960 sterling silver as an anniversary gift. He has worn this ring every single day since, never taking it off. It’s been on his finger and tagged along out of the country for a trip we enjoyed to Italy. The first time he held our daughter, he was wearing the ring. On extraordinary, and completely mundane days, the ring has been there for almost 5 years now. He got it pinched in a machine at work (he works at a gym) and I had to reform it to be round once again. He moves metal weights, striking the ring against the hard tools of his workplace almost every single day, and while the surface of the ring is reflecting its wear, presenting scratches and a shine that has long since been dulled by the abrasive nature of his work, the ring itself is still strong, still holding up. I’m not sure how long it will last since this is an ongoing experiment as my husband continues to wear and cherish the ring, but I hope it tags along for many more years to come as it is not yet showing any signs of being structurally compromised. I feel like 5 years of daily wear for this ring and it still holding up well is an affirmation to me, that sintered metal clay is strong enough, and is an appropriate medium for creating jewelry. 

Metal clay, like anything else, has its advantages and disadvantages. Compared to the tools required for traditional metalsmithing, it’s incredibly accessible, and the ability to manipulate it while it’s in lump form or to carve or shape it in greenware really opens up so many opportunities to create. It’s incredibly flexible as a material and allows makers to use it to create something that would require several techniques or methods (casting, soldering, etc) in just one go. It might not be as strong as its cast relatives, but if properly sintered, I firmly believe it is strong enough to hold up to the wear and tear of being worn and is an adequate and appropriate material to use to create heirloom potential jewelry.   

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