Category Archives: Argentium + metal clay

Process #3 – Organizing Metal Components

Jewelry metal organization is an issue for every jewelry artist. Because my way of working includes metal clay components as well as milled sheet, wire, and tubing, I have a big job to keep everything easily accessible.

metal clay components (box 1 of 3)

Metal Clay Components

Organizing metal clay components is the first step between the metal clay bench and the jewelry bench. As I showed in my post on producing MC components, I tend to get into a bit of flow and produce a shelf full of bits.  I use regularly various leaves, flowers, birds, etc.

metal clay components – a box of tiny boxes

After the metal clay components are completely fired and cooled, I sit down with the kiln shelf and a small plastic organizer box to sort the similar leaves or flowers into different receptacles. The number of styles of leaves, for example, is steadily increasing as I add more and more complexity to the designs. It’s nice to have all the smooth leaves together here and all the serrated leaves together there. My new favorite organizer for metal storage is this tiny box of boxes, which provides a total of 28 containers with nice snap-lock lids. Yes, pieces do sometimes darken when they’ve hung around for an extended time, but the sulfur that causes that will burn right off once the pieces are reheated. The bright white components are fresh from the kiln.

organizing unfired metal clay components

Of course, I also have boxes of unfired metal clay components for when I’m combining dry clay parts before firing. I have several of these larger 14-compartment snap compartment boxes for those.

storage for small Argentium parts – jump rings, granules, bezel cups, etc.

Small Argentium Components

A larger box of boxes has historically held my small Argentium parts, I like the larger boxes because they can hold accessories, like the 1mm drill bits that I use as mandrels for tiny jump rings or the washers and pipe fittings that I use to cut even snippets for forming granules.

After years of having a cup of random jump rings left over after projects, I’ve finally gone to organizing them as well. I simply cut a large quantity at once with my Pepe jump ring maker and then place them into labeled boxes so that I can easily know which mandrel to grab when I need to make more.

organization of silver wire and sheet in a hanging file box

Wire, Sheet and Tubing

Finally, as many jewelers do, I organize my wire and sheet in a hanging file system, organized by gauge. Square and round wire in each gauge is stored in its own plastic bag for tarnish control, but filed together in the slot for the appropriate thickness.  I also have slots for tubing and less commonly used solders.

All these containers are easily at arm’s reach when I’m working at the jeweler’s bench. I want it to be easy to reach over and grab the needed part when an idea strikes.




Process #2 – Variations on a Theme

Vickie Hallmark – Wedge Earrings Worshop – fusing PMC3 and Argentium sheet

I’m preparing for upcoming workshops at the Tucson Gem Show in a couple of weeks. When I wrote the class proposals on short notice, I only attached photos that I already had available, such as the floral wedge earrings. Now that I have a little more time, I’m exploring variations on a theme.

Vickie Hallmark JOGS class sample variation – domed Argentium discs with silver clay floral designs

I try to encourage my students to be original in class. I prefer when all the student work looks at least slightly different than mine (more is good!). After all, the point of making jewelry for yourself ought to be to put your own personal stamp onto it. As a teacher, I strive to teach students artistic thinking as well as technical skills. So I’m trying to break down the process for students to show them how discreet decisions at each step of the process can lead to a lot of possible variations on a theme.

JOGS workshop sample variation-curved Argentium oblong earrings with granulation and fine silver clay decoration – Vickie Hallmark

For the sheet metal class, I’m exploring the ideas of shape, texture, and dimension. There are plenty of simple-to-cut shape options such as discs, squares or rectangles, in addition to the wedges shown. For texture, I can use a hammer or punches or a rolling mill (not that I’ll be taking one of those with me!). For dimension, I can leave the sheet flat, or I can curve or dome it with  a dapping or swage block. My metal clay components that get fused on top are individual as well. All those decisions at each stage of the process lead to many different looks. The only limit is imagination!

Vickie Hallmark – JOGS class project – double ring earrings featuring Argentium wire and fine silver metal clay floral components

For the workshop that combines wire and metal clay, I also explore variations. My original project for this class was the double ring earrings shown above, with the metal clay components bridging the two rings.

Workshop samples – Argentium wire fused with fine silver clay decorative components – Vickie Hallmark at JOGS 2018

These can be easily altered by using single rings with fitted components inside. Another variation is to stretch a large ring into an oval and have the metal clay component fit over the ring. Of course, much more complex shapes are readily available with a little fussy cutting and fusing.

Tucson Gem Show Classes

As the end of 2017 quickly approaches, I’m starting to plan for 2018 and increased teaching opportunities. One of the most exciting options is at the Tucson Gem Show. I’ve only attended the show once before (and left early when I caught swine flu that year). On February 1 or 2, I’ll be offering two single-day workshops at JOGS. Both are introductions to metal clay with Argentium.

JOGS 2017 Jewelry Class Vickie Hallmark Argentium and Metal Clay

Wedge Earrings: Fusing PMC3 And Argentium Sheet

In both classes, we’ll make a pair of earrings or pendant (your choice). The first class uses sheet, while the second uses wire for the Argentium compoonents.

JOGS 2017 Jewelry Class Vickie Hallmark Argentium and Metal Clay

Floral Earrings: Fusing PMC3 And Argentium Silver Wire

In the morning of each class, we’ll cover the basics of working with fine silver metal clay (PMC3) and build a few small components. Those will be kiln fired over lunch. In the afternoon, we’ll introduce the novel properties of Argentium silver and learn to fuse Argentium to both itself and the metal clay.

If you’ve avoided soldering or fusing in the past, you’ll love Argentium fusing! There’s no firescale to clean, and the fusing temperature range is very broad compared to fine silver, making melting and unsightly joints much less likely.

I’d love to have you join me in Tucson for a playdate tucked in amongst your gem shopping.

Lavender Memorial Earrings

Are you planning a special Mother’s Day event or just a simple call to your mother? I wish I could do the same, but unfortunately my own mother passed away five years ago. I think about her all the time.

She would adore my Knock Out roses that are immune to mildew, bloom crazily even in the heat or cold, and just keep growing taller those years that I miss pruning. Although she loved to bake bread and slather it with homemade butter, she had a history of stomach issues (as do I). My abandonment of wheat and all other grains to go on a Paleo diet might even have inspired her when she saw that my health improved. I know if she were still able, she would alternate between a book to read and a hand project to work on, mostly needlework. That’s where I got my love of reading (and now listening while I work) and my handwork skills that I use for jewelry.

Triangular drops, handmade bezels, and purple chalcedony.

Triangular drops, handmade bezels, and purple chalcedony.

Thinking about her this year, I decided to make a special pair of earrings dedicated to her memory. Her favorite color was lavender, so I perused my collection of stones to find these lovely purple chalcedony cabochons.

Lavender Earrings 1000x1000

Lavender Memorial Earrings – Vickie Hallmark – Argentium sterling silver, fine silver, purple chalcedony

I used a favorite shape for the body of the earrings – this softly curved triangle lends itself to my treetop vignettes with plenty of room for a detailed bird and branch. I also used some new flowers (I’m currently working on a class curriculum which includes cutting shapes and then modifying them into more interesting botanical elements).

bezels and cabochons for upcoming projects

bezels and cabochons for upcoming projects

I also took a few hours to focus on one thing and prepared a lot of other bezels for new designs coming up soon.

While these memorial earrings are meant to stay in my personal collection, I’m happy to make something similar. Just contact me to begin a discussion about a design just for you.

Quote Charms

For a long time now, I’ve used quotations on the reverse side of many of my one-of-a-kind pieces. The quotes go back to a time of emotional difficulty for me, when I worked regularly in my bird journal as I traveled frequently. Those quotes all involve birds, to which I was drawn because of their representation of soul or spirit. Something about creatures that can fly free in the heavens seems to innately bring that association to mind. Recently, I’ve decided to expand my use of these quotations to an entire collection of jewelry, and to explore other inspiration quotes beyond the bird theme.


Quote charms for the 2015 ACC Charm Collection. Handmade by Vickie Hallmark in Argetentium sterling silver with fine silver details.

Partly this was because of my decision to participate this year in the ACC Charm Collection. The Charm Collection debuted last year at the American Craft Council Show in Baltimore. You can see the catalog of last year’s participants and their jewelry here. My friend, Patricia Tschetter, participated in that first show and asked why I did not. To be honest, somehow the entire thing missed my attention. But it was an intriguing show, so I vowed to participate if they offered a second opportunity. When I received the call for artists for 2015, I jumped on it, sending back an email immediately so that I wouldn’t procrastinate and forget.


Reverse side of quote charms for the 2015 ACC Charm Collection. Handmade by Vickie Hallmark in Argetentium sterling silver with fine silver details.

Of course, I did procrastinate on making the required charms, and the requirements were stout: 4-6 stand-alone charms, a pendant, a completed bracelet and a pin. But eventually, I did start on the project. A friend suggested that my usual format would be less than ideal, because my charms would be flat. So I had to dream up an idea to either make them more three dimensional or to add something to the reverse that would be as compelling as the vignettes on the front. That’s when the idea came to me – quote charms! They’re a lot more intricate than the typical slips of metal with stamped words on them that comprise trendy fashion jewelry. I love them because they mean so much to me personally, they are inspiring to others, and they are beautiful as well.

Shown here are the standalone charms, available individually. In upcoming posts, I’ll be showing the finished jewelry in my collection. If you’d like to browse the collection before the official catalog is available, check out the ACC Charm Collection Pinterest board.



Fusing Metal Clay to Argentium Silver

Fine Silver, 22k Yellow Gold & 18k Green Gold Components

Fine Silver, 22k Yellow Gold & 18k Green Gold Components

As with most of my one-of-a-kind jewelry, I really love fusing metal clay components into place on my Argentium sterling silver fabricated jewelry. I’ve done this now for more than two years with fine silver clay, and recently I’ve begun to experiment with other metal clays as well.

Fusing Argentium

fused Argentium ring with granulation

fused Argentium ring with granulation

Normally, we think of fine silver and high karat gold, metals that don’t react with oxygen when heated, as being metals where fusing is used. Fusing means the metal joins without the use of solder.  Traditional sterling won’t fuse because oxygen causes the heated metal to develop black copper oxide, called fire scale, which prevents the metal from joining without the use of an intermediate metal mix called solder. The small percentage of germanium in the Argentium alloy rises preferentially to the surface, where it confers a lot of great properties like preventing fire scale so the metal can fuse. In this case, a phase of metal with higher copper and germanium actually becomes molten and flows while the rest of the material stays solid. It’s a bit like having solder distributed throughout the metal. Argentium is much easier to fuse than fine silver. I typically fabricate almost all of my jewelry via fusing, and only occasionally resort to fusing a minor bit here and there.

For great information on fusing Argentium to itself, check out the resources online at the Argentium Guild.

Fusing Fine Silver Clay to Argentium

wren panel Five Moons bracelet Vickie Hallmark

wren panel from Five Moons bracelet

In general, fusing metal clay (fine silver) onto Argentium is straightforward. The fine silver needs to be treated a bit more gently, as it will tend to heat faster than Argentium and therefore can overheat and potentially melt before the Argentium flows. Anywhere that the fine silver touches the sterling, Argentium will flow and bond when the fusing temperature is reached.

For more details on fusing fine silver to Argentium, there are a number of resources available:

  1. Fusing Silver Clay to Argentium Silver,” an article that I wrote with Ronda Coryell that was published last year in Metal Clay Artist Magazine.
  2. Two upcoming articles by Ronda and I, due out in the November 2014 issue of Art Jewelry Magazine.
  3. My upcoming online class with Alison Lee on CraftCast, scheduled again for November, which you’ll be hearing more about later.

Fusing 22k Yellow Gold Clay to Argentium

heron bird bracelet Vickie Hallmark

heron panel from California Moons bracelet

Ronda Coryell has taught fusing 18k or higher gold onto Argentium for years now, so it’s no surprise that 22k gold clay works similarly. Again, the key is to heat slowly, as gold heats quickly and can actually sink right through the Argentium rather than fusing up on the surface. Trust my experience — that’s a sad waste of beautiful gold!

Fusing 18k Green Gold Clay to Argentium

18k green gold clay fused to Argentium sterling silver

Gold Leaf Basket earrings – 18k green gold clay leaves fused to Argentium bases

I recently tried some of Michelle Felice Glaeser’s 18k green gold. I thought using different colors of gold in my work might be very exciting — all those tiny leaves could actually be green! This worked exactly as well as the 22k yellow gold, I’m happy to say.

So my experiments continue. On my bench this week: 14k rose gold clay. Results coming soon.

Custom Jewelry Testimonial

I love custom jewelry work – it’s my favorite! Making a stunning piece of jewelry designed in collaboration with a client makes for interesting variations. I dislike duplication, so interesting variations are just the thing for me. Getting a glowing testimonial for the finished piece is the icing on the cake.

custom jewelry bird bracelet by Vickie Hallmark | Five Moons | Argentium sterling silver, fine silver

original Five Moons bracelet | Vickie Hallmark, artist | Argentium sterling silver, fine silver

For the holiday season last year, I had a request to reprise my Five Moons bracelet. Of course, since I hand-sculpt the decorative elements on these pieces, each one would be original even if I tried to duplicate them exactly. I prefer to make each one completely individual by varying the elements in each vignette. The discussion with the client about the custom jewelry carried specific requests: an owl, an Australian fairy wren and a hummingbird, all fat. My original birds weren’t fat enough! But no worries – I can use them later, so I made more even fatter. LOL! The client also requested that I set some small diamonds onto the bracelet panels and add some gold, so I used 18k gold tube settings to mount the stones.

custom jewelry bird bracelet by Vickie Hallmark | Australian Moons | Argentium sterling silver, fine silver, 18k yellow gold, diamonds

Australian Moons bracelet | Vickie Hallmark, artist | Argentium sterling silver, fine silver, 18k yellow gold, diamonds

If you’d like to read about the design process from the client’s point of view, just hop on over to her website and read for yourself. She’s an artist, too, so be sure to poke around and see some of her own bird-inspried art. Here’s an excerpt:

“I feel so lucky to have been able to work with Vickie to create this beautiful piece of jewellery – she was truly amazing throughout the whole process from discussing the design and components, to customising the birds just for me. Not only did I get to watch as it happened, but I now own a piece of custom art that I can see, admire and appreciate every day.  You may not be able to see it from the photo, the details are amazing – right down to the wings and embellishments on each spray of flowers, every day I fall in love with this all over again.  So thank you so much Vickie – this piece of art truly has found a loving new home! “ 

Order Custom Jewelry Early for the Holidays!

If you’d like to consider a custom piece of my jewelry as a holiday gift, please contact me soon to allow time for the design and construction process before the season gets too hectic.

Returning to the Bench

Last week I finally had a day when I felt a need to actually get back out to the studio. I decided to start easy and “remake” something. I’ve been wearing my Full Moon earrings regularly and felt rather attached, so I felt a need to have a pair I could actually sell. It seemed like an easy project.

Blue Moon Earrings
©2013 Vickie Hallmark
argentium sterling silver, fine silver, Swiss blue topaz
fabricated and fused with hand-sculpted details

So I rounded up a few leaves and flowers and a pair of birdies that I had cast into Argentium and set forth. First I formed rings of Argentium wire, fused and hammer textured. These I fused onto sheet to form the moon rims for my night scenes.  I wound and cut a new clutch of small jumprings for the connections. I fused some wire bits into branches. Finally, I carefully placed all the bits along with a pair of Argentium bezels and a bunch of granules into their mirrored scenes and fused everything into place. That’s the hard part, when the flux starts to expand and all those tiny bits start moving. Once it gets warm enough that all settles down and every single piece gets painstakingly pushed back into its proper place with a pick, then I can heat up to fusing temp and make it all permanent. Finally, I have to cut out each earring from the back sheet which stayed attached all this time, drill holes, sand, polish, patina and make ear wires and set stones.

When I went to search my stone supply for 6 mm cabochons, the Swiss blue topazes jumped right out for me. The first earrings had moonstones, but I wanted these to be different. Somehow the name Blue Moon seemed totally appropriate — it has been a very blue month.

Argentium & Silver Clay Clasps

Today it occurred to me that I could decorate simple forged clasps with fine silver clay components. I needed a clasp to coordinate with my latest birdhouse pendant. I’ve been making toggles, but I actually prefer hook & loop closures for necklaces. So I formed the hook and loop from Argentium, fusing the rings closed, then added a fine silver flower to make the clasp coordinate beautifully with the larger flower spacers and the flower at the peak of the birdhouse. Voila! A custom clasp with little work.

Birdhouse necklace
©2012 Vickie Hallmark
sterling clay, sterling chain, Argentium wire

The chain I used, however, was conventional sterling, so I got my practice in with soldering all the fine links closed to make the pendant secure.

Earrings: Heat Hardening

A common platitude for artists is that working in a series fosters development of the work. The series may be performed in parallel, simultaneously working on several pieces, or in series, completing one after another. In either case, an idea generated by one version influences the next. This provides relief to the artist – we don’t have to incorporate every trick we know into one piece, but can experiment with one or two ideas at a time and hopefully get a better handle on how to incorporate them going forward.

Anemone Drop earrings
©2012 Vickie Hallmark 

sterling clay, Argentium wire

As I play with the notion of components, I’ve tried fusing them onto Argentium and pasting them together in the clay state. Today I have several pairs of earrings influenced by a repeat of my Flock bracelet currently under construction. I love the sinuous movement given to the links by an attractive set of beaded linkages. Most jewelry designers would use jump rings, but I like the design element introduced by the beaded heads of these connectors.

Bird & Nest earrings
©2012 Vickie Hallmark 
sterling clay, Argentium wire

To get beautiful beads, I always use Argentium sterling, which balls up without the ugly wrinkling seen on conventional sterling wire. The first bead is easy to do on the bare wire. The second bead is tricky, because the other components in contact with the wire draw heat away, making it quite difficult to get the wire hot enough. There are two tricks to making this work well – one is Argentium, which heats more locally than regular sterling, and the other is the right torch. A small, tight, very hot flame gets in and out before the silver transmits the heat to its neighbors. Argentium also has the added advantage of heat hardening. After I get the beaded linkages all completed, the jewelry goes into the kiln at 570° F for a couple of hours to increase the hardness far beyond that of regular work-hardened sterling. Thus the wires, while not the typical jump rings, are beautiful and sturdy as well.