Setting Gemstones in Metal Clay

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How Many Ways Can You Set Gemstones in Metal Clay?

Probably more than you think! If you want to learn many different options for setting gemstones in metal clay both before and after firing, this article is for you. In addition to metal clay setting techniques and tips, you'll also find recommended gemstone firing test charts and helpful tutorials, books, videos and tools. Even if you don't know much about metal clay, the photos and techniques here may well inspire you to find out more this wonderful material and maybe even try your hand at jewelry making!

I've always loved learning and sharing what I've learned with others, and in this article I'll share what you need to know about setting gemstones in metal clay successfully. You'll learn how to determine which gemstones are safe to fire in metal clay as well as a wide variety of options for setting natural gemstones, lab or synthetic gems, CZs and other objects into unfired or fired metal clay pieces.

Read on to expand your repertoire of techniques for setting stones and other objects in metal clay!

Margaret Schindel, Senior Editor / Technical Editor, Metal Clay Artist Magazine

Photo credit: Reversible fine silver metal clay pendant with a bezel set lab ruby, designed, created and photographed by the author and artist, Margaret Schindel.

Gemstone Firing Tests in Metal Clay

Which stones tested safe to fire in place?

Photo credit: Assorted faceted and cabochon natural gemstones, synthetic
and manmade gemstones and CZs, photographed by Margaret Schindel.

Several knowledgeable people have performed extensive firing tests of natural and manmade gemstones at typical metal clay firing schedules. These are extremely helpful in determining how risky it is to fire a particular type of stone in place.

Not every stone produced identical test results in the different firing tests, and the tests also vary in terms of whether the stones were tested loose or embedded in metal clay, the types of clay in which the stones were embedded, and the firing schedules tested, so I usually consult several of the charts before deciding whether or not I think a particular stone is a good risk for firing in place in the type of clay and at the firing schedule I plan to use.

Gemstones in Metal Clay
This fabulous guide by Mardel Rein of Cool Tools shows which natural and synthetic gemstones can be fired successfully in metal clay, by what methods (kiln and/or butane torch), with or without activated carbon, and at what firing schedules. It’s formatted as a PDF file for easy printing and you’ll want to keep a copy in your work area for frequent reference. It also includes tests at the longer/hotter BRONZclay and COPPRclay firing schedules (which is a helpful reference when using any type of base metal or sterling silver clay), and is the gemstone testing chart I turn to most often. It reflects the combined gemstone firing test results of Mardel Rein and Kevin Whitmore of Rio Grande.

Firing Gemstones and Natural Stones
This excellent and helpful PDF from Art Clay World USA provides tips for selecting stones suitable for firing in metal clay and for testing stones.

Bling, Bam, Boom, and Things That Go Poof in the Kiln
If you register on the Rio Grande web site for the archived PMC Guild educational materials, you get this wonderful article on gemstones by Deric Metzger, G.J.G. A.J.P. in the Fall 2004 · Volume 7, Number 3 back issue of Studio PMC Magazine. For a more extensive view of Deric Metzger’s gemstone firing tests in metal clay, see his book Natural Gemstones in Metal Clay – A Bench Resource Manual below.

Lab Grown Gemstones and CZs You Can Fire in Place
Mary Ellin D’Agostino has assembled a page of lab grown gems and CZs that she has found safe to fire in silver metal clay at 1650 °F and those that she has found safe to fire at 1110 °F. (The length of time at which the stones were held at each of these temperatures is not specified.)

Natural Gemstones You Can Fire in Place or Set Afterwards
This page from Mary Ellin D’Agostino lists natural gemstones that can be fired in place successfully as well as some that should be set after firing.

Setting Gemstones in Metal Clay Before vs. After Firing

Photo credit: Fine silver metal clay earrings molded from the blossom end of a tangerine, embellished
with gold and set with clear round CZ gemstones. Created and photographed by Margaret Schindel.

There are no hard-and-fast rules about which gemstones will survive torch firing or kiln firing in metal clay without changing color or fracturing/breaking at certain typical firing schedules, but fortunately there are some tips for minimizing the risk and also some excellent guides as to which gemstones, natural and manmade (i.e., lab-grown gems or synthetic stones) are good candidates for firing in (or with) metal clay based on extensive firing tests of various gemstones in different types of metal clay at different firing schedules and in different firing conditions (open air vs. carbon fired).

Always ask your suppliers whether the CZ and/or lab-created stones they sell have been tested for firing in metal clay. Try to buy from suppliers who test their gemstones and stand behind them as being “kiln-safe.” The product descriptions for many of the stones on the Gem Resources web site include results from gemstone firing tests in metal clay performed by artist and teacher Judi Weers.

Whenever possible, test-fire an identical stone (from the same shipment from the same supplier) by itself or, preferably, embedded in a small piece of the same type and formula of metal clay of the piece in which you want to fire to see whether it fractures or changes color. (You may wish to cover a loose stone with a piece of fiber blanket to contain the fragments in case the stone shatters during the firing test.)

Caveat: Fire ANY gemstone at your own risk! Following these tips and guidelines, especially the excellent charts of stone firing tests below, will help you minimize the risk of fired-in-place gemstones changing color, fracturing or breaking after firing in metal clay. However, each stone is unique and there are no guarantees, especially for natural stones. Even a stone identical in appearance to one that you test fired successfully may not react identically to the tested stone, especially if the stones are natural gemstones. Also, even a stone that appears to survive a test firing successfully may be weakened and fracture later on. If you are dealing with an expensive or irreplaceable stone, it’s best to create a setting for it in the metal clay piece and then set it after the piece has been fired.

Gemstones in Metal Clay Are Affected by Clay Shrinkage, Firing Schedule and Firing Method!

Different metal clay formulas shrink at different rates and it’s important to take the shrinkage of the metal clay into account when embedding gemstones to fire in place. Make settings large enough to accommodate shrinkage without putting undue pressure on the stone, but not so large that the sintered clay will not lock the stones in place in the metal securely.

When using higher-shrinkage metal clay formulas, make the stone settings a bit deeper and wider than you would in low-fire fine silver clay. If your design will allow it, also drill or cut out a small hole at the bottom of each setting for a point-back gemstone. This will help prevent the girdle of the stone from being pushed up above the clay as it shrinks, which would mean that the stone was not shrink-locked securely into the metal.

Some gemstones that would fracture or change color in an open-air firing can survive being kiln fired in activated carbon. I strongly recommend consulting the gemstone firing test links above before deciding which stones to try kiln firing this way, and also test firing a sample stone in a small piece of metal clay before using it in a piece you care about. Start with a brief, gentle binder burnout by placing the piece on a flame-proof surface and using a butane torch to ignite the binder in the clay, keeping the flame away from the gemstone(s). Wait until the flame burns out. Try to ignite the binder again. If it won’t ignite, there is no remaining binder to burn out. Transfer the partially fired pieces gently onto a 1/2″ deep bed of activated carbon in a kiln safe firing container, top with more carbon to a depth of 1/2″ above the top of the piece, being extremely gentle when moving the pieces since they will be fragile after the binder burnout, and then kiln fire them in the activated carbon according to the clay manufacturer’s directions.

Setting Gemstones in Fresh Metal Clay

Make sure you set only gemstones that can withstand the firing schedule and firing method for the metal clay you are using!

Fine silver earrings from metal clay, set with lab sapphire cabochons and
embellished with 24K gold keum-boo, designed, created and photographed by Margaret Schindel.

General guidelines for setting stones in metal clay

Check the depth of the stone vs. the clay thickness. You’ll need to add enough clay in the setting area (or embed the stone deep enough in thicker clay pieces) to cover the stone’s girdle (for faceted stones) or the stone’s shoulder (for cabochons) after the clay has been fired and has shrunk during the sintering process. This will shrink lock the gemstone into the metal.

To set faceted stones to be fired in place directly in metal clay, ensure that the girdle of the stone (the widest part) is embedded in the clay 1–2 mm BELOW the surface of fine silver metal clay or 3 mm below the surface of higher shrinkage clay formulas, and that the table (flat top) of the stone is level. The clay must shrink-lock around the girdle of the stone during firing. Cutting a hole in the clay under the stone helps minimize the amount that the clay pushes up the stone as it shrinks.

To set cabochons to be fired in place directly in metal clay, make sure that the shoulder of the cabochon stone is embedded in the clay 1–2 mm BELOW the surface of fine silver metal clay or 3 mm below the surface of higher shrinkage clay formulas so that after firing the clay will shrink lock the shoulder of the cabochon into the metal.

Flush setting a gemstone in metal clay

If the clay is deep enough, use a small straw or other cutter to cut out a hole slightly smaller than the stone. Then moisten the surface of the clay around the hole very lightly, wait a few seconds for the moisture to be absorbed into the clay, and then center the stone over the hole and press it straight down into the clay until the girdle of the stone (faceted) or the shoulder of the stone (cabochon) is about 1 mm below the surface.

Metal clay ball bezel setting I

Cut a hole in the clay slightly smaller than the stone’s diameter. Roll a small ball of lump clay and flatten it slightly into a disc a bit wider than the stone. Place the disc over the hole and, using tweezers, place the stone into the center of the disc. Press the stone into the disc until the girdle is covered and the table is level.

Metal clay ball bezel setting II

Moisten the area on the clay piece where you want to add the bezel-set stone. Quickly roll a ball of clay about twice the size of the stone and press it onto the moistened area of the piece. Lightly moisten the ball and allow the water to absorb briefly, and then use a pencil, pointed clay shaper, etc. to make a cone-shaped hole for the stone. Press the stone straight down into the hole so the girdle or shoulder is about 1 mm below the surface.

Bezel setting gemstones in metal clay as design components

This is my favorite way to bezel-set stones in fresh metal clay. Roll out a slab of metal clay at least 1 mm thicker than the stone. Use an oiled straw or small cutter slightly smaller than the stone you want to set to cut out a hole in the clay. Lightly moisten the surface of the clay around the hole, let the moisture absorb into the clay for a few seconds, and then center the stone over the hole. Use an acrylic snake roller or an empty CD or DVD case to press the stone straight down until the girdle or shoulder of the stone is 1 mm beneath the surface of the clay. Apply a clay release agent to a small clay cutter, craft knife, scalpel, clay blade or tissue blade and cut around the stone, leaving a margin slightly wider than you want the bezel to be. Remove the excess clay and allow the rough bezel to dry. Then carve, file, and/or sand the bezel to refine it.

These bezel set gemstone components are extremely handy to have on hand! I often make a bunch of them at once and store them in a closed container. That way I have a selection of already set stones to choose from when I design a new piece. This makes creating a new piece with gemstones much faster and easier.

To add the bezel-set gemstone component to a fresh clay piece, moisten the area where the setting will be attached and cut a small hole (to allow access to the back of the stone for cleaning). Then moisten the back of the bezel setting and press it onto the moistened fresh clay, centering it over the hole.

To add the bezel-set gemstone component to a dried metal clay (greenware) piece, drill a hole through the greenware backplate (to allow access to the back of the stone for cleaning). Moisten the surface of the clay around the hole and on the back of the bezel. Then center the bezel-set stone over the drilled hole and press it down firmly, wiggling it slightly until the clay “grabs” and the bezel won’t move. If you prefer, you can use metal clay paste to attach the bezel-set stone over the hole.
Important!

A Great Tip for Embedding Faceted Gemstones in Fresh Metal Clay!

When you embed a faceted stone in fresh metal clay, it's a challenge to get the table of the stone perfectly level and at the correct depth. Here's the easy way: Moisten the hole in the fresh bezel or backplate, wait a few moments and lightly oil the surface. Stack spacer slats on either side so they're flush with the surface of the clay. Center the stone in the hole and press straight down with a clear acrylic snake roller as far as the spacer stacks allow. Done!

Setting Tall Faceted Stones in Metal Clay

Fine silver charm (both sides shown) from metal clay, set with a citrine CZ and embellished with a
crystal bead drop, designed, created and photographed by Margaret Schindel.

Setting a faceted stone with a tall pavilion in metal clay can be a challenge, especially if the clay base in which will be set is significantly shorter than the stone (or shallow bezel set gemstone component). If you use the stone to create an individual bezel set component using one of the methods I’ve described, when you attach the component to your piece it may protrude above the surface more than your design calls for.

One solution is to set the stone in a shallow metal clay bezel that leaves the lower part of the pavilion exposed so that it can be embedded below the surface of the piece, either into fresh metal clay or into a hole drilled to accommodate the exposed part of the stone’s pavilion. In her excellent instructional DVD set “Contemporary Metal Clay 1″, well known artist, instructor and author Hattie Sanderson demonstrated how to make a nifty bezel-making tool out of polymer clay that is extremely helpful for making these types of partial bezels. The basic idea is to create a thick, perfectly flat patty of conditioned polymer clay of even thickness throughout (you also can use a large circle cutter with a thick slab of rolled-out clay and smooth the edges with your finger), cut out a hole from the center with a clay cutter (or straw) that is slightly smaller than the girdle of the faceted stone you want to set, cure this polymer clay “doughnut”, sand it perfectly smooth and flat, and then seal it with a polymer clay-compatible glaze or clear varnish (such as Sculpey Glaze or Pledge with FutureShine floor finish). Cut or punch a matching hole in a piece of nonstick sheet (optional but recommended).
To use this bezel making tool, flatten a ball of metal clay to the desired height by placing it between two stacks of playing cards or thickness spacers or stacks of playing cards. Alternatively, you can create a more decorative bezel by rolling out a slab of metal clay to the desired bezel thickness and cutting out the desired bezel shape and size with a craft knife, scalpel or small shape cutter. From the center of this flattened patty or cutout, cut a hole slightly smaller than the girdle of the stone. Oil the nonstick sheet and place it on top of the polymer disc, aligning the holes. (Alternatively, you can oil the polymer disc.) Place the clay shape on top, aligning the hole with the holes in the nonstick sheet and the polymer disc. Moisten the inside and top edges of the hole in the metal clay with a drop of water, wait a few seconds for the moisture to be absorbed, and then center the stone carefully with tweezers. Slowly and carefully press the stone straight down so that its girdle is 1 to 2 mm below the surface of the clay and the table is perfectly level and flush with the surface. Allow the bezel to dry, then carefully remove it from the nonstick sheet (or oiled polymer disc) and file or sand the edges smooth. As a final step, clean the stone carefully with a sponge-tipped swab dipped in rubbing alcohol.

Another option is to increase the height of the piece in the area where the gemstone or shallow bezel set component will be placed. One way to do this is to stack one or more cutouts on top of the backplate before embedding the gemstone or pre-set stone component. That’s how I set the citrine colored CZ in the charm shown above (in both front and back views) so that the CZ’s culet wouldn’t protrude through the backplate. The charm was built by stacking three dried clay (greenware) components: a shallow bezel-set CZ component, a shape cutout with a hole drilled through the center (to provide room for the bottom of the pavilion) and a backplate with a hole drilled only partway through (I needed more depth to accommodate the pavilion but I didn’t want to expose the culet since this was a two-sided charm).

Metal Clay Syringe Settings

Syringe Bezels and Prong Settings

Bold fine silver cocktail ring from metal clay, set with 25 x 18 mm blue topaz CZ and
embellished with 24K gold keum-boo, created and photographed by Margaret Schindel
at a workshop taught by Barbara Becker Simon at La Ruche Davis.

Syringe bezels

Cut a hole in the clay slightly smaller than the stone to be set. Extrude a line of syringe clay to create a rim surrounding the edge of the hole. If necessary, add a second or third line of syringe clay to make the bezel tall enough to cover the girdle of the stone. Using tweezers, place the stone in the setting and gently press the girdle into the syringe clay until the stone’s table (top) is level and the girdle is covered by the syringe clay. You can also add syringe decorations on top of the bezel (and even draping over the stone) for added security. This is how I set the lab ruby in the round silver pendant shown in the introduction at the top of this page.

Syringe prongs

After setting the stone in a flush setting, moisten the clay around the stone and extrude syringe prongs that extend over the stone a bit longer than you want them to be after firing (to allow for shrinkage). If you make the syringe clay prongs too short, after they shrink during firing they won’t be long enough to curve over the edges of the stone and hold it securely.

More Ways To Set Gemstones In "Wet" Metal Clay

Coil settings AKA rope settings or snake settings

Roll a coil of lump clay and brush it lightly with water. Let the water soak in for a few seconds, then form the coil into loops just slightly smaller than the stones you want to set. Using a tweezer, place the stones in the loops and press them into the clay so that the girdle is covered and the table is level. This technique is explained and illustrated extremely well in “Introduction to Precious Metal Clay” by Mary Ann Devos.

Alternate method: Press the stone into the clay and add a line of syringe to cover the stone’s girdle.

Fine silver origami brooch made from PMC Sheet metal clay, set with an amethyst CZ in a fine silver metal clay syringe setting. Designed, created, photographed and copyrighted by Margaret Schindel.

Layered cutout setting

Moisten the area where you want to set the stone and add a small clay cutout (made with a knife, straw, aspic cutter, etc., from plain or textured clay). Press to adhere and wick a little water around the edges of the seam. Use an appropriate sized drinking straw or cocktail straw to remove a plug of clay slightly smaller than your stone from the center of both layers. Press in your stone to cover the girdle or shoulder. (It’s sometimes easier to set the stone into the top layer before cutting it and then center the cutter over it.) Note: This technique is similar to the stacked greenware setting I used for my citrine CZ charm, but the process is slightly different when using fresh clay.

Faux pavé settings

Press tiny faceted stones nearly touching into a narrow coil of clay to create a faux pavé effect. Roll out the clay for the main body of the piece and cut a slit slightly longer than the “pavé” strip. Brush some slip or paste over the coil and lay the clay slab on top, carefully opening the slit just enough for the row of stones to show through. Press the seam gently and smooth the edges with a damp brush and some paste or slip. When dry, turn over and apply a generous layer of paste or slip to the back of the seams. Special thanks to Angela B. Crispin for sharing this technique with me.

Do You Prefer to Set Gemstones in Metal Clay Before or After Firing?

Certain gemstones cannot be fired in place at all. Others cannot be fired in an atmospheric (open air) firing but can survive kiln firing in activated carbon successfully. Others can be fired in place in an atmospheric firing or in activated carbon, but even those don't need to be fired in place; they can be set after firing.

The choices as to how and when you set a particular gemstone involve not only the stone's limitations but also your design aesthetic and considerations related to the shrinkage of metal clay around fixed-sized objects, whether bezels, prong settings, or the stones themselves and the possible distortion or cracking that can occur.

If a gemstone is safe to fire in place, how do you prefer to fire it?

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I usually prefer to embed fire-in-place gemstones into a metal clay setting or embed them just below the surface of the fresh clay. When the piece comes out of the kiln, it's ready for finishing!

MSchindel says:

Actually, it's possible to get a beautiful fit with a fired metal clay bezel and to set it the same way you would with a bezel made of commercial fine silver bezel wire. Wanaree Tanner at www.jade-orchid.com teaches her techniques for creating exquisite bezels from metal clay that are designed to shrink to just the right size for setting gemstones after firing and to get great results consistently, and her metal clay bezels are absolutely stunning! You might enjoy going to her site and viewing her work. Being able to have the choice of a wide variety of gemstone setting techniques just gives you more artistic freedom to achieve a particular desired look. :)

neoclaydolls says:

I believe the worst nightmare is to try and fit a gemstone into a fire-cured piece of clay (it can never be a 100% fit...). Even if the gemstone does get a small crack after fire curing, it's what's makes it unique!

MSchindel says:

If I know the stone is safe to fire, usually I prefer to set it directly into the clay before firing. I like the variety of different setting types and looks I can get with metal clay settings and I don't need to worry about whether the stone will fit the setting after firing or whether the clay will distort or crack as it shrinks around a fixed-size setting.

Regardless of the type of stone, I usually prefer to embed a setting into the piece and then set the stone after firing. There's no worry about the effects of the prolonged heat on the stone or possible reactions between the metal fumes and the stone.

 

Setting Glass in Metal Clay

Glass can be set in fine silver metal clay either before or after firing (or in any type of metal clay after firing if an appropriately sized setting has be embedded in the piece before firing). Whether you set the glass before or after firing depends on the effect you want to achieve.

To retain the size, shape and surface texture of a piece of glass or a glass cabochon, or if you are using a metal clay other than low-fire fine silver clay, set the glass after firing. Create a setting in the metal clay piece that, after firing, will be the size and shape of the cabochon, either from commercial fine silver bezel wire or from metal clay bezel wire. See the sections on creating bezel settings for stones to be set after firing and on creating metal clay bezel wire for more information. Also, see the photo of a bezel setting I created for a dichroic glass cabochon that I wanted to set after firing.

To allow the glass to slump, round, or flatten out, embed it in low-fire fine silver clay before firing. Create a recessed area for the glass in the metal clay, making it a bit larger all the way around than the glass to allow for the clay’s shrinkage. You want to shrink-lock the glass in place, but not put too much stress on it so it doesn’t develop one or more stress fractures. Some artists press the glass partway into the clay and then wiggle it from side to side and front to back to create a slightly enlarged recess of the correct shape. After the clay has dried it’s a good idea to carve a slight undercut at the base of the recessed area where a little softened or molten glass can ooze into, which will help lock the glass in place after firing. You also may want to add extra insurance by adding some decorative strands of syringe that drape across the top of the glass to help secure the glass in place. In order to avoid devitrification or stressing the glass, you need to use a cool firing schedule and cool the glass slowly. One firing schedule that works well is to fire to 1250°F, hold for 30 to 45 minutes, and then turn off the kiln and allow the piece to cool inside the closed kiln overnight. The exact temperature and time you fire depends on the type of glass and how much slumping you are willing to accept. The more the glass is allowed to slump, the more secure the bond will be between the glass and the sintered metal, but aesthetic considerations may affect your choice of firing schedule.

How Do You Prefer to Set Stones in Metal Clay?

What's your favorite method for setting gemstones, glass or other objects in metal clay?

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Setting Gemstones in Dry Metal Clay

The biggest advantage to setting gemstones in metal clay after it has dried but before it has been fired is that you get the best features of setting gemstones in wet clay (i.e., you can shrink-lock the stones in place as the clay sinters) and setting gemstones after the clay has been fired (i.e., you don’t risk distorting the clay or marring the surface). Here are several useful techniques for setting gemstones in dry metal clay.

Gypsy settings

Make sure the clay is thick enough so the girdle of the stone will be covered after pre-finishing. When the clay is bone dry, pre-finish it (sanding, etc.). Use a very small drill bit in a hand drill/pin vise to drill a pilot hole all the way through the clay. Replace the drill bit with a jeweler’s stone-setting bur approximately 10% larger than the stone you will be setting, or use a drill bit that’s the same size as the stone but drill a little deeper than usual. Test-fit the stone in the hole to make sure that the girdle is slightly below the surface of the clay. If necessary, remove the stone and enlarge the hole slightly. Carefully brush off any loose dust from the clay and from the gemstone. Clean the stone thoroughly, then place it back in the hole. Make sure it’s level and clean the top of the stone with alcohol and a sponge-tipped cosmetic applicator or cotton swab. Note: If the stone is set on a curve, use white glue to hold it in place on the way to the kiln.

Optional step (but I find it really helps to make sure the stone is shrink-locked securely after firing): Using an applicator tip with a tiny hole, extrude a very fine line of syringe just inside the edge of the drilled setting hole. Alternatively, brush a little paste clay inside the setting hole. Place the stone into the hole as described above, then wipe the edge of the setting with a damp brush to make sure no syringe or paste clay squeezed out above the stone. Let the paste or syringe clay dry completely. If any clay ends up on top of the stone, scrape/flake it off the stone gently once it has dried. Clean the top of the stone with alcohol and place in the kiln.

Tip: You may want to create a photopolymer plate to impress starter holes in the clay where the stones will be set.

Note: If you are unfamiliar with gypsy settings, here’s an excellent article by noted jewelry artist and author Charles Lewton-Brain on the traditional Basic Gypsy (flush mount) Setting technique for setting faceted gemstones flush in metal jewelry.

Special thanks to Mary Ellin D’Agostino, Tonya Davidson, Maggie Bergman and Priscilla Vassão for their advice on this technique!

Fine silver C brooch with gypsy-set CZs, designed, created and photographed by Margaret Schindel

Bezel Settings For Cabochons That Will Be Set Post-Firing

Fine silver bezel wire setting embedded in fine silver metal clay before firing and set with
a dichroic glass cabochon after firing, designed, created and photographed by Margaret Schindel.

Here are several types of settings for gemstone cabochons that will be set after firing the metal clay.

Fine silver bezel wire

Wrap a strip of fine silver bezel wire around the base of a cabochon. Test fit and adjust the bezel over your cabochon on a flat surface. There shouldn’t be any gaps but the stone should slide in and out of the bezel easily. When you have a good fit, mark the spot where the wire overlaps. Cut it flush (err on the side of too long vs. too short) and file the ends, if necessary, to create a tight seam when the ends are butted together. Check the fit again before sealing.

Method 1: Embed the bezel into the clay and seal the joint neatly with paste clay or homemade PMC3 oil paste. Keep most of the paste on the outside of the joint so you don’t change the fit of the bezel. Let the clay dry, fill any gaps, dry and fire. If necessary, you can file and sand off any excess paste carefully after the bezel has been fired.

Method 2: Seal the joint of the bezel with paste clay or, better yet, homemade PMC3 oil paste or Art Clay Oil Paste. When dry, fire the bezel separately, file the seam smooth and embed in fresh clay as above. This is the method I used to bezel set the dichroic cabochon in a domed, textured metal clay pendant component the photo above.

Tips for embedding commercial bezel wire into metal clay:
  • Select bezel wire that is wide enough to hold the stone in place securely after burnishing plus another 1 mm in width (i.e., height) that will be embedded in the metal clay. If in doubt, err on the side of bezel wire that is too wide; after firing, you can always file or sand down the bezel to the correct height for the stone.
  • Scuff, scribe or sand (with coarse sandpaper) the area of the bezel that will be embedded to give the metal some “tooth” for a better bond with the metal clay.
  • Draw a guide line on the bezel wire scant 1 mm away from the lower edge with a fine-tipped marker to help you embed the bezel in the clay to an even depth all the way around.
  • Carefully sand the surface of the metal clay inside the bezel flat and level before firing, if necessary, for example if the surface of the clay where the bezel wire is being embedded is curved and/or textured. This will allow the stone to be seated level when it is set after the metal clay with the embedded bezel has been fired and finished. You can see an example of the flat seat I created in the curved and textured bezel setting in the photo above.

Tabbed fine silver bezels and bezel wire

Metal Clay Findings sells fine silver bezel wire with tabs that extend along one edge of the wire and is designed specifically to be embedded in metal clay. The company also makes ready-to-use tabbed bezels to fit 3 mm, 4 mm, 5 mm, 6 mm, 7 mm and 8 mm round stones and 6 x 4 mm and 8 x 6 mm oval stones. The tabbed bezel wire created a very secure bezel setting because the bent tabs are embedded in the clay, which shrink locks them in place during firing. Metal Clay Findings provides detailed information for using its tabbed bezel wire.

Note: To avoid distortion of the clay, it also is possible to create a flat area on the clay where the bezel will be attached, fire it, and then either attach the bezel with metal clay oil paste and fire the paste or solder the bezel to the piece. However, if your piece is textured and you did not calculate the size of the flat area before firing correctly based on the shrinkage of the clay formula you used, the area where the bezel needs to be attached may not be flat all the way around and it may be difficult to file it flat without marring the surrounding textured metal.

Art Clay Silver Paper Type or PMC Sheet metal clay bezels for cabochons

Beautiful custom bezels can be created with metal clay paper (sheet) to accommodate cabochons of any size and shape. This technique was pioneered by talented metal clay artist Jennifer Kahn and often is referred to as the “Kahn bezel” for that reason. Jen’s excellent chapter in the superb book PMC Technic (which you can explore and purchase below) explains in detail how to size the metal clay bezel setting so that it shrinks to the correct size after firing and also offers some metal clay bezel variations.

Embedding Calibrated Bezel Cups in Metal Clay

Fired fine silver metal clay marquise shaped earring drops with 3 mm calibrated fine silver bezel cups that were
embedded before firing. The fired-in-place bezel cups will be set with 3 mm natural blue topaz cabochons
after the metal has been finished and patinated. Designed, created and photographed by Margaret Schindel.

Embedded silver bezel cup settings for calibrated cabochons

For calibrated cabochon stones, you can embed silver bezel cups into the clay. If you are using fine silver clay you can embed either 1) fine silver bezel cups or 2) sterling silver bezel cups that have been “depletion gilded” (heated and pickled repeatedly to bring the oxides to the surface and remove them, leaving a layer of fine silver on the surface). For depletion gilding sterling silver findings, you can use either a traditional jeweler’s pickle (such as Sparex #2) or a citric acid pickle, which is safer to use. If you are using a carbon-fired silver clay formula, such as PMC Pro or PMC Sterling, depletion gilding of sterling findings is not required.

The bezel cups must be embedded securely into the clay in a way that allows the clay to physically or mechanically lock them into place as the clay shrinks. One way is to drill one or two small holes in the bezel cup before embedding it in the clay or attaching it with thick silver clay paste, preferably homemade PMC oil paste, which can be fired up to 1650F. A little of the clay or paste should push up through the hole(s); tamp it down slightly so that it overlaps the edges of the hole(s) and is fairly level with the inside of the bezel cup. This will create a rivet-like mechanical connection between the bezel cup and the metal clay underneath.

Another option is to apply paste (preferably homemade PMC oil paste) not only to the sides but also around the outside near the base of the bezel cup and then surround it with a border of syringe or a rope of clay right up against the base of the bezel cup. Note: This is how I embedded the 3 mm fine silver bezel cups in the marquise-shaped fine silver earrings shown above, since the tiny natural blue topaz cabochons could not be fired in place safely.

To make an even more secure connection, drill a few small holes around the base of the cup so that as the clay shrinks it will push into the holes to create a mechanical connection.

Create Textured Metal Clay Bezel Wire Strips for Setting Cabochons

You can use shallow textures (including tear-away textures) to create textured bezel wire strips for setting cabochons. If you create your own metal clay textures, you can use them to create unique textured bezels that can add more of your artistic voice and also more value to your bezel set metal clay pieces. You can choose (or create) a texture to complement or contrast with the patterning in the gemstone cabochon. And a textured bezel can help draw more attention to the cabochon it frames.

Making textured metal clay bezel wire strips

Roll out a sheet of metal clay 1-2 cards thick (depending on the depth of your texture, the shrinkage of the clay, and how thick you want your bezel) on whatever surface you plan to cut it on. I like to use a jumbo rolling frame to maintain a perfectly even thickness throughout, or you can make your own rolling frame (see Wanaree Tanner’s video tutorial for Metal Clay Artist Magazine on making your own Metal Clay Bezel Wire, below). Texture the clay without lifting it from the rolling surface. Cut a long strip somewhat longer and slightly wider than you’ll need for your bezel strip (an adjustable dual-blade craft knife makes it easy to get a uniform width along the entire strip), then peel off the excess clay without disturbing the textured strip. The reason for not lifting the clay is to avoid getting any air between the bottom of the clay and the nonstick sheet. Now you can allow the textured side of the clay to air dry for 30-60 seconds, just long enough to allow it to firm up so that you can lift and manipulate it without marring the texture (but not so much that it cracks when you curve it into the bezel shape), while keeping the non-textured side moist (because it is sealed against the nonstick sheet). Then form the strip into a bezel, sized to allow for the clay’s shrinkage, mitering the edges and sealing the joint well with paste. After it dries, lightly moisten the joint and reinforce it with fresh clay.

I learned a fantastic trick from the wonderful Celie Fago for making an almost invisible seam on a textured bezel. Cut the textured metal clay bezel strip a few millimeters longer than you need, then shape the bezel strip and join the ends. After the clay and especially the joint have dried completely, take a sharp, stabilized blade and cut cut straight down through the bezel on either side of the joint, angling the ends of the blade so both ends are beveled at the same angle. Moisten the inside of the bezel lightly, cover it with plastic wrap and allow the moisture to absorb into the clay. Then remove the plastic and join the beveled ends with thick slip, taking care not to let much paste ooze out on the textured side of the joint. Allow the joint to dry, flick off any excess slip on the textured side with the tip of a sharp blade (I’ve also used a fingernail to do this), and reinforce the back of the joint. When the joint is dry, refine the inside of the bezel.

Wanaree Tanner's Tutorial for Making Metal Clay Bezel Wire

By making your own bezel “wire” from thin, narrow strips of metal clay, you can use not only fine silver bezel wire but also sterling silver, bronze, copper, and other metal bezel wire that is either hard to find or simply not made commercially at all!

In this excellent video tutorial that well known metal clay artist and teacher Wanaree Tanner created for Metal Clay Artist Magazine, she shows her method for creating a homemade clay rolling frame for rolling long, narrow strips of metal clay at only 1 to 2 cards thick (depending on whether you want to texture the strips) and then shares her tips for rolling and cutting the metal clay bezel strips.

Wanaree Tanner's tips for making metal clay bezel wire. Courtesy of Metal Clay Artist Magazine.

Making Pierced Metal Clay Bezel Wire (AKA Gallery Wire)

Wanaree Tanner has created another wonderful tutorial for Metal Clay Artist Magazine that shows how to use the Silhouette Cameo electronic die-cutting machine to cut out simple or intricate patterns in metal clay sheet or metal clay paper and cut it into strips for bezel wire. In it, she walks us step-by-step through how to use the Silhouette Cameo software (Silhouette Studio) to tell the cutter which cuts to make. Fascinating and extremely helpful, the Silhouette CAMEO cutting techniques that Wanaree demonstrates will open up a whole new world of design possibilities for your metal clay bezel designs!

Wanaree Tanner shares her method of making pierced gallery wire for bezels from metal clay using the Silhouette CAMEO electronic die cutting tool with MCAM readers.

Meet the Silhouette CAMEO Electronic Die-Cutting Machine!

Metal clay artists are discovering more and more exciting ways to use the Silhouette CAMEO electronic die-cutter to take their work to the next level! If you love the intricate metal clay openwork bezels, appliques and deep custom textures in the work of Wanaree Tanner (who introduced the metal clay community to this awesome tool) and other talented metal clay artists, or if you want to create your own elaborate templates, you'll want to own the Silhouette CAMEO electronic die-cutting tool.

Unlike most other die-cutting machines, with the Silhouette Cameo you aren't required to buy an entire cartridge or set of dies just to get a single shape, pattern or font you're looking for. And with the upgrade to the Silhouette Studio Designer Edition software, you can use any font you own, purchase, or download from any of the many free font sites and also import and edit your own original or copyright-free designs to create completely customized shapes, patterns, and designs!

The very versatile Silhouette Cameo can be used with cutting blades, markers, and other accessories to cut, draw, and embellish a wide range of media and materials, including paper, cardstock, vinyl, fabric, self-adhesive stencil material, and much more. Create self-adhesive stencils for etching glass and mirrors; cut out intricate fabric appliques, embellishments, and personalization for clothing, accessories, and home decor items; make elegant, custom labels, tags, gift cards, greeting cards, scrapbook pages, and vinyl home decor items (including banners up to 10 feet long). There's no limit to what you can create with the help of this sophisticated electronic die-cutting machine!

Prong Settings for Faceted Gemstones That Will Be Set Post-Firing

Embedded commercial silver prong settings for faceted point-back gemstones

Commercial prong settings are embedded in clay similarly to the method for embedding bezel cups. Jackie Truty of Art Clay World wrote a wonderful PDF on Attaching and Setting Stones into Pure Silver Settings that provides excellent step-by-step instructions for how to embed a fine silver prong setting into fine silver metal clay and then set a faceted gemstone in it after firing. Jackie included lots of helpful tips to ensure a successful result. Highly recommended!

Embedded custom wire prong settings for faceted gemstones

You also can make your own custom prong settings by embedding wires (see the section on Prong Settings for Cabochons or Other Objects That Will Be Set Post-Firing) and then trimming the wires, rounding the ends with a cup bur, and filing notches to seat the stone’s girdle firmly.

Prong Settings For Cabochons or Other Objects That Will Be Set Post-Firing

You can set large or unusually-shaped cabs, rocks, or just about any object you wish by making custom wire prong settings.

Embedding custom wire prongs

Fold lengths of fine silver wire in half (but don’t crease the wire at the fold). Bend the ends of the wires at 90-degree angles to form “legs” (these will ensure that the ends of the wire are securely shrink-locked into place. Place your cabochon on the “raw” clay and embed the “legs” of the prongs into the clay around the edges of the stone. (The wire prongs won’t shrink, but the clay into which they’re embedded will, so leave a little space around the stone to allow for shrinkage.) Remove the cabochon. Seal and strengthen the area where the wire enters the clay by using paste clay and, if desired, some syringe clay. After firing, place the stone inside the prong and gently bend the prongs over the cabochon, taking care not to twist the prongs.

Variation: Before firing, decorate the prongs with syringe clay, paper-type clay cutouts or other metal clay adornments secured with paste clay or syringe.

Talented metal clay artist and teacher Holly Gage provides an excellent tutorial on making and embedding wire prong settings into metal clay for setting the gorgeous titanium pieces she sells, but the same techniques can be used to create prong settings in metal clay for any type of stone or other object that cannot withstand firing. Excellent article!

Settings for Pearls and Half-Drilled Beads

Settings for pearls and half-drilled beads. The easiest way to add pearls or half-drilled beads to your design is to securely embed a length of silver wire (either fine silver or depletion-gilded sterling silver) into the clay, leaving a piece exposed to serve as a post or peg. After firing, epoxy the pearl or bead onto the wire. Alternatively, you can embed a fine silver (or depletion-gilded sterling silver) earring post into the clay and then add the pearl or bead with epoxy after firing.

Learn the Art of Setting Stones in Metal Clay from Noted Artist and Teacher Jeanette "Nettie" Landenwitch

Nettie Landenwitch is a metal clay pioneer and innovative artist who also was the Executive Director of the PMC Guild until it ceased operations in 2012. She has written an awesome, comprehensive book on stone setting techniques for metal clay.

Note: A great companion to the book is the recording of her CRAFTCAST online class, Learn the Art of Stone Setting in Metal Clay, which you can purchase and download from CRAFTCAST along with the PDF handout from the original live online class from January 2011. It's a great way to see her demonstrate many of the techniques from the book and to get some great bonus information.

Recommended Suppliers of Gemstones and Settings for Metal Clay

Most of the following suppliers of gemstones, settings and supplies for setting in metal clay are companies I have dealt with personally and can recommend based on those experiences.
Art Clay World USA
Art Clay World offers a fine silver prong settings in a wide range of shapes and sizes, as well as some sterling settings with attached, serrated "tongues" that can be embedded in low-fire clay so that the setting portion extends from the clay. Art Clay World sells a very nice selection of CZs, also in a good range of shapes, sizes and colors, as well as some lovely natural gemstone cabs (to be set after firing) and limited quantities of gorgeous abalone shell slices designed to be embedded in, and covered with, UV resin (also available on the site). You'll also find the Metal Clay Veneer kit, which can be used to create textured clay bezels for your stones.
Cool Tools
Mardel Rein is one of the most knowledgeable people in the field about which stones are safe to fire in metal clay. In addition to offering a very nice selection of CZs, lab gems, natural gemstones, dichroic glass, fine silver bezel, tube and prong settings and bezel wire, and lacy sterling silver gallery bezel wire, she also sells Silver Prep citric acid pickle, which can be used for depletion-gilding sterling silver findings so they can be fired in PMC3™ or low-fire Art Clay™ Silver.
Gem Resources International
Shirley is incredibly helpful and honest, and her prices for CZs and lab-created gemstones are fantastic. She also sells natural faceted and cabochon cut gemstones, some of which can be fired in metal clay, and the product descriptions for all her stones that have been test-fired in metal clay show the test results, which is extremely helpful. Get on her mailing list to be notified of the terrific monthly special deals!
Metal Clay Alchemist (formerly Art Clay Canada)
Metal Clay Alchemist carries sterling prong settings that can be fired in place with silver metal clay, but the real treasure here is the selection of cabochons and faceted stones, natural and manmade, fire-in-place and non-fireable. The company test-fires all its manmade fireable stones to ensure that they will hold their color after firing. Metal Clay Alchemist's site includes a very handy, free, downloadable gemstone size reference chart that contains true-to-size images of different stone shapes in a range of sizes.
Metal Clay Findings
Anthony at Metal Clay Findings has developed a fabulous line of fine silver findings specifically for metal clay artisans.These include .999 fine silver bezel settings and bezel wire with tabs that can be embedded securely into metal clay, ring bands and ring liners (onto which you can add metal clay embellishments, including gemstone adornments) that ensure a perfect fit every time, embeddable earwires, flared bead cores that can be used with metal clay (as well as lampworked glass, polymer clay, and other media), "artist kits" with project instructions by well-known metal clay artists and instructors, and much more. I've written a product review of the Metal Clay Findings product line.
MetalClays.com
David Nemeth and his wife, artist Liad Wischnia-Nemeth, carry a very nice assortment of CZs that can be embedded in metal clay and fired in place successfully. They also sell an extremely handy tool for stone setting called the Stone Picker Pro, that makes it easy to pick up and place even tiny faceted stones on your metal clay components. And they sell the Makin's® Professional™ Ultimate Clay Extruder™. extra extruder discs and ClayCore™ extruder adapters (great for tube settings) at a significant discount.
Metal Clay Supply
Metal Clay Supply carries Hattie Sanderson's excellent instructional DVDs, a nice selection of kiln-safe stones and dichroic glass cabochons, half-drilled freshwater pearls, fine silver bezel cups and bezel wire (plain, scalloped and serrated), the Makin's® Professional™ Ultimate Clay Extruder™ (great for tube settings), Jay Humphreys' Metal Clay Veneer kit (for making textured clay bezels), stone-setting burs, and much more.
PMC Connection
PMC Connection offers a great selection of CZs, a nice assortment of lab gemstones, and synthetic star sapphire cabochons. The company carries fine silver prong settings, bezel wire, and Jay Humphreys' Metal Clay Veneer starter kit. They also sell 24K gold and fine silver casting grains that can be embedded in the clay.
Rio Grande
Rio carries not only a huge selection of CZs and natural gemstones (including half-drilled freshwater pearls), but also fine silver bezel wire, bezel cups, setting tools, Embeddables™ pre-notched embeddable settings for metal clay, sterling settings and Sparex® pickling solution for depletion-gilding them, stone setting burs, and much, much more.

Videos on Setting Gemstones in Metal Clay on YouTube

Stone Setting in Metal Clay
by Rio Grande | video info
208 ratings | 114,683 views
curated content from YouTube

Did you learn something useful about setting gemstones in metal clay? Do you have other tips or techniques to share?

Or just say hi and let me know you stopped by. Thanks!

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  • bloomingrose Apr 22, 2014 @ 8:37 pm
    You never fail to amaze me. Pinned to my jewelry board.
  • MSchindel Apr 23, 2014 @ 3:23 pm
    Rose dear, you always are so kind and generous! Thank you so much for both the wonderful compliment and the pin.
  • antsea1984 Apr 22, 2014 @ 12:20 pm
    I simply love gemstones! You have put some fantastic craft tips here! Sounds stupid but I had never heard of metal clay until reading your lens! Some great tips on gemstone setting! Thanks for sharing
  • MSchindel Apr 22, 2014 @ 12:51 pm
    Thanks so much for your wonderful feedback! Actually, metal clay isn't that well known as a jewelry material, so it's not surprising that you hadn't heard of it before. I've written many other articles about creating metal clay jewelry here on Squidoo that you might enjoy. Thanks again for your lovely comments! :)
  • hmsweaver Apr 12, 2014 @ 8:10 pm
    Awesome! I haven't tried firing PMC with stones. It's on my list of things to learn! I appreciate you sharing your great talent and tips with us!
  • MSchindel Apr 13, 2014 @ 2:49 pm
    My pleasure, hmsweaver! I hope you find this information helpful and that you enjoy your upcoming adventure into setting gemstones in metal clay. :)
  • grammieo Apr 08, 2014 @ 2:25 pm
    Oh I am not this talented. But this was an interesting lens.
  • MSchindel Apr 08, 2014 @ 6:18 pm
    I'm delighted that you enjoyed it! As far as talent goes, I'll bet you'd be surprised at what you could create with metal clay if you decided to give it a go. :)
  • mountainmist Feb 21, 2014 @ 1:58 pm
    Amazing! I would like to work in metal clay. This is a terrific tutorial.
  • MSchindel Feb 21, 2014 @ 8:58 pm
    Thanks very much for your lovely comment! I'll be delighted to help you with any questions you have about working with metal clay.
  • PaynesGrey Feb 11, 2014 @ 2:33 pm
    Thank you for this fascinating insight into this craft. I will love to try this
  • MSchindel Feb 11, 2014 @ 9:59 pm
    My pleasure! Please let me know if I can be of help if you decide to try working with metal clay. :)
  • DaisyDixon Jan 23, 2014 @ 8:44 pm
    I'd love to try this!
  • MSchindel Jan 24, 2014 @ 1:46 pm
    Daisy, it's a wonderful jewelry making material and set of techniques. Please let me know if you have any questions about getting started. :)
  • eva_writes Jan 19, 2014 @ 5:07 pm
    I have never worked with metal clay because it is a bit expensive, but I'm thinking about trying one day. This was indeed useful as I had no idea about all this (I thought you simply put the stone in there and that's it :D).

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