TRAVERSE CITY — Working with precious metals like gold and silver can take a lot of training.
But turn the metals into powders, add a binding agent like clay, mix with water and it becomes much easier to work with.
“It’s like working with pottery, only in miniature,” said Ruth Bloomer, who regularly works with the material to make jewelry.
Official it’s called precious metal clay, or PMC for short, and it was invented in the early 1990s in Japan, Bloomer said. It’s expensive — $50 or $60 for a few grams of the material, she said.
The clay-like material is molded by hand and, once dry, heated in a kiln to burn off the binding agent leaving only the fused metals, said Bloomer, a Traverse City resident.
Bloomer, a senior leadership giving officer for Munson Healthcare, said she tends to refer to it as reclaimed silver because the silver can come from things like old X-rays or film.
Bloomer said she discovered PMC while reading a trade magazine in the early 2000s. However, it was a while before she was able to find someone in the Traverse City area that was able to teach working with the material, Bloomer said.
“The idea of working with materials that were recycled or reclaimed and the idea that I could do silver work and not have to weld (appealed to me),” Bloomer said.
“Welding is tough work on the hands and it takes a lot of training to do traditional metal smithing,” she said. “This is a way of being creative with silver that’s easier than the traditional metal smithing.”
There are a lot of artists that work with recycled material and silver isn’t one most people think about, said Carol Bawden.
Bawden owns The Painted Bird in Suttons Bay, which sells Bloomer’s work.
Bloomer said she makes a lot of earrings, pendants and bracelet or necklace charms with the reclaimed silver.
The pieces are quite popular at The Painted Bird, Bawden said.
“People are surprised when they find out what it is,” she said. “It has a really appealing look — then they find out what is is and that makes it even more interesting.”
Bloomer also works with local stones like Leland Blues, petoskey stones and beach glass. Pairing the stones and beach glass with the PMC — which is shiny, lightweight and durable — allows the materials to feed off of and enhance each other, she said.
“It’s finding the beauty in stones and glass that you can find on the beach and adding pearls and semi-precious stones and enhancing those pieces,” Bloomer said. “Then I use the reclaimed silver to enhance or do other things with those same items I find on the beach.”
People have called her work “organic,” and less like what would be seen in high-end jewelry stores, Bloomer said.
“She (Bloomer) kind of keeps things a natural texture, but then it’s bright white silver,” Bawden said. “Everybody likes silver.”
“This is a way of being creative with silver that’s easier than the traditional metal smithing.” Ruth Bloomer