Ceramic Jewelry Making

ceramic jewelry making kness

Let’s talk Ceramic Jewelry Making and specifically, ceramic pendants materials. I get this question a lot on social media and although the information is given here and there on the blog, I thought I’d reiterate it in a more specific way. If you’d like to see more finished products, head towards the porcelain jewelry section of the shop.

If you’d like to follow all the steps for a single piece of porcelain jewelry, I covered that in the Wedding Porcelain Pendants blog post.

What kind of wire do you use for making ceramic jewelry ?

I use high fire wire for all the ceramic jewelry. Making ceramic pendants means they are fired twice at very high temperatures. A standard wire would not hold the heat and would probably break and / or melt. The melting point of aluminum is 660°C, and for example, a cone 019 – which is the lowest temperature I fire to for luster – is 668°C while firing porcelain jewellery will go all the way to1200°C. The high fire wire is usually an alloy of nickel and chromeTheir respective melting points are 1453°C and 1860°C.

Nickel can cause allergies; that’s why I chose a high temp stamen wire that’s nickel free.

I’m talking about temperature thresholds here just to make things clearer but keep in mind that the most accurate way to assess these is to talk about heat work. Heat work is the combination of temperature rise and fall over time. Think baking : if you flash bake your cake at 195°C for 5 minutes it will probably not look or taste as expected. The same goes with ceramics, porcelain or stoneware. They need a certain temperature rise over time and a cooling period.

Ceramic JEwelry Making - High Fire Wire and Bead Rack
This little owl pendant was made using both a bead firing rack and high fire wire

Do you add the wire before the firing or after the firing ?

I usually add the wire before firing. At that stage I also balance my pendant to check if it will hold gracefully on a chain and not wobble on one side or the other. When the ceramic jewelry is fired, it shrinks. So the wire is hold firmly in place by the clay itself and the added glazes that are fused all around the wire.

Adding it afterwards would imply the use of glue and it would probably be weaker. The downside of adding it before is that fired wire is usually darker and will lose its silver shine – which I don’t really need anyway.

I don’t use any wire in sculptures or figurines as a wire going through a whole ceramic piece would probably cause it to break – mainly because of tension and differences in thermal expansion of the materials.

Ceramic Jewelry making - adding wire
Adding the wire at an early stage of ceramic jewelry making allows to balance the piece more accurately

Is the material real porcelain or polymer clay / cold porcelain ?

No, It’s real porcelain, like the one used for china, diner ware, mugs etc. Ceramics, porcelain in particular, has been used for a very long time both for serving and preserving food and for decorative purposes. Polymer clay on the other hand is made of plastic – PVC and phtalates – and I don’t want to use it.

What kind of gold paint do you use for clay jewelry making ?

I use a gold luster from Duncan. This material is red when unfired and gold when fired at a cone 020 to 018. It requires a bit of extra work as the fumes are super strong and I get to wear a fancy respiratory protection. It also requires dedicated brushes, paint thinner to clean them, and all of this is to be disposed of properly after use.

It’s real 22k gold after firing because of chemical reactions and magic. It’s kind of expensive too !

The duncan gold luster firing temperature is cone 020 to 018 – this is between 636°C and 734°C, or 1176°F and 1353°F. Duncan gold is now owned by Mayco, the product is the exact same. I usually set my kiln to 668°C.

This exists as white gold too, the firing range is the same.

ceramic jewelry making - painting gold on ceramics
The gold on ceramic jewelry is red at first and it needs to be fired at a one 020-018

Do you fire the gold or is it another kind of paint ?

The ceramic jewelry making process sometimes involves lusters. The gold luster is fired at around 668°C, as well as the mother of pearl and white gold.

What kind of varnish do you use to make your sculptures shiny ?

I don’t use a varnish as a part of the ceramic jewelry making process, it’s a clear glaze. The glaze is a powdery material suspended in water. I either brush on or dip my bisque fired jewelry pieces into the liquid glaze. It forms a thick coating that dries almost instantly. When fired at cone 6 (1200°C) it becomes vitrified and fuses to the clay body. This creates the shiny effect : it’s basically a coat of glass on the pendant or figurine.

making ceramic jewelry - glazing process
Greenware, underglazed and unfired glaze steps of the ceramic jewelry making process

Glazing Ceramic Beads

I use a bead firing stand, or bead rack in order to fire fully glazed ceramic pieces. It’s made specifically for this use. When I was learning this craft I also made pendant stands out of ceramics but they take more space in the kiln and have a shorter life. Bead racks come either with metallic rods or ceramic rods. The metallic rods are stronger but they will bend under a heavy load. The ceramic rods are heavier, larger and will hold until cone 6 usually, not further.

Ceramic jewelry making will require more kiln furniture than standard pottery. There are other options available that you will be able to explore with your local pottery shop.

What is the best ceramic clay for jewelry ?

I use two brands of clay to make my ceramic pendants, both are from Canada : Plainsman and PSH (Pottery Supply House). They make lovely materials. You can sue stoneware or porcelain, both will work out fine. You need a clay that’s plastic enough and which smotthes out nicely. Avoid clays with grog or speckles that will be harder to sculpt at such a small scale.

I think that’s it for now ! Anymore questions about ceramic jewelry making? I have a FAQ that’s pretty full of informations, and the rest of the blog is also packed with answers, like should you be selling on etsy or sculpting clay animals. You can ask me anything on social media or by e-mail 🙂