Getting Started with PMC

What is PMC?

Precious Metal Clay, PMC, is an exciting material developed and patented in the 1990s by Mitsubishi Materials of Japan. Microscopic particles of silver are mixed with a moist binder to create a material that has the feel and working properties of modeling clay. Using simple tools, objects are easily given shape, texture, and character. After air-drying, the objects are heated to temperatures approaching the melting point of the metal, where the particles fuse together to make a dense, fully metallic object. Fired PMC work can be polished, soldered, enameled, and enjoyed like any other silver item. PMC is available in three different versions of silver and in a 22k gold alloy.

A Brief History of Precious Metal Clay (PMC)Dr.Morikawa

In the early 1990s, Dr. M. Morikawa of Mitsubishi Materials Corporation (MMC) in Japan led a team of scientists who developed and patented a material known today as Precious Metal Clay (PMC). In Japan, pottery is an art form with deep cultural significance stretching back for over a thousand years. Dr. Morikawa wanted to join jewelrymaking to ceramics. He reasoned that if he could transform precious metals into a material that could be shaped and finished like clay, then he could touch a resonance that would interest many Japanese artists.

By 1994, PMC was in production in Japan and being marketed there. Mitsubishi felt that the product was ready for export. But was America ready for PMC? They contacted Darnall Burks, an engineer who had been working with the company for several years. Though not a jeweler himself, Darnall’s neighbor on Deer Isle in Maine was a well-known jeweler Ronald Hayes Pearson. Ron was intrigued by PMC but has just retired from active studio work. He recommended that Tim McCreight, another American jeweler and teacher might be someone who could advise Mitsubishi on the viability of PMC in the United States. Together these three men conceived and organized an opportunity for fifteen leaders in the crafts to experiment with PMC so they could assess its value. This studio think tank took place at the Haystack Mountain School in Deer Isle, Maine in May, 1995.

Present at Haystack were: Ron Pearson, Tim McCreight, Jack Prip, John Paul Miller, J. Fred Woell, Pat Flynn, Patty Daunis-Dunning, Mikki Lippe, Eleanor Moty, Sharon Church, Gene Pijanowski, Kim Cridler, Chris Ramsay, Myra Mimlitsch Gray & Micki Lippe.

What was learned was very interesting:
  • PMC is an amazingly plastic and versatile material. It can be shaped by hand, folded, molded, extruded and painted on another surface.
  • PMC can be endlessly textured and takes on microscopically fine definition.
  • PMC can be mixed with ceramic powders and oxides to assume new shades of color and a rougher texture.
  • PMC can be fired with stones and ceramics. It can be glazed and enameled.
  • PMC fits a wide range of artistic visions but not all. It compliments but does not displace traditional jewelry methods.

Following the Haystack experience, Mitsubishi Materials hired McCreight and Burks to consult with them as they brought PMC to the United States. One of the first requirements was to find an experienced company to sell PMC as the U.S. distributor. Rio Grande in Albuquerque was interested and since 1996 has provided the jewelry community with a professional and helpful source of supply. A few years later Mitsubishi made arrangement through a Japanese company called Mikuni to create a company called PMC Connection to interface with the retail side of the market.

Several national magazines carried articles about PMC, and Rio Grande introduced the radically new material to its customers through catalogs and presentations at shows. As interest grew, we became aware of a need for teachers. To address this, Mitsubishi hired McCreight in late 1996 to teach five Master Classes to selected teachers. These were held in Maine, Michigan, Texas, Oregon, and New York. In some ways, these classes were to become the template for the certification program that was introduced a few years later.

To further expand the information and shared experiences about PMC, McCreight and Burks saw the need for a newsletter and a web site. As these activities continued to multiply, an organizational structure was needed to contain them all. In the summer of 1999, Burks and McCreight incorporated the PMC Guild.

At the suggestion of Akira Nishio, Manager of the PMC division of Mitsubishi, the Guild worked with Rio Grande (at that time the only US distributor) to create an innovative program that established standards that would insure continuing artistic development of metal clay. The Guild responded by creating a fixed curriculum program called certification. When PMC Connection came into being, they created a complementary program, and today both are authorized by the Guild. Today hundreds of classes are taught each year to thousands of students.

OutreachTim McCreight

In early 1997, McCreight created a web presence for PMC at a www.PMClay.com. Though simple, this first site provided a powerful tool to reach out to the craft and educational market. One of the first official acts of the newly created Guild was to makeover their website, including a new URL at www.PMCguild.com, where it remains today. The web site was redesigned for a third time and presented a new face to the Internet community in February, 2005.

The Guild website today comprises hundreds of pages and gets over 700,000 hits each month. Visitors to the web site will find instruction, tips for beginners, projects, a gallery of hundreds of completed pieces, advice for teachers, technical charts and data and links to hundreds of groups, suppliers, and artists. Members of the Guild have access to the current issue of “Studio PMC” magazine, a Members Directory, and additional resources. Construction and management of the site has for many years been in the capable hands of Sadelle Wiltshire of Spectrum Design in Bennington, Vermont.

In February of 1998, Steven Edwards was hired to create and edit a 16-page newsletter that would help connect the far-flung enthusiasts who were discovering PMC. In the early years, this newsletter was distributed for free by Rio Grande and by teachers who were offering classes around the country. After five years, Edwards turned the management of the newsletter over to Suzanne Wade, the current editor. Under her guidance the two-color newsletter has grown to a full-color magazine, and soon it will have doubled in size. From the beginning it has been designed by Jonah Spivak of Spectrum Design.

In July, 2002, about 250 people gathered on the campus of the College of Wooster in Ohio for the first PMC Conference. The premier event drew people from almost 30 states and from five countries, most notably a large contingent from Japan. The program included large sessions of general interest and smaller, thematic sessions on topics ranging from photography to cyberspace.

The success of that event prompted a second conference, which was held in July 2004 on the campus of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. This popular event drew almost 500 enthusiasts, and again they were treated to a full menu of more than 30 presentations. The Guild’s commitment to educational outreach can be seen in a dedicated web site (www.pmc-conference.com) that offers hundreds of pages of information that was developed for the conferences. The third conference will be held in Indianapolis, Indiana in July 2006.

Technical Development

Since the first gathering at Haystack in 1995, leaders of the Guild have provided a service to the scientists in Japan and to artists everywhere. The Guild serves as a testing ground for new products and has been instrumental in developing and naming PMC+, PMC3, and Aura 22. Kevin Whitmore and his colleagues at Rio Grande have done extensive testing on gemstones combined with PMC, and Mary Ann Devos and other PMC Connection teachers have experimented extensively with glass, especially dichroic. The Guild has provided a way to share this information.

Because its bias is education and art, the Guild can translate the language of the laboratory into the language of the studio. At the same time, the Guild is working with industry leaders to bring PMC into large-scale commercial use. More new products are in the works.

1994 Aug Mr. Hosoda and Mr. Uchiyama meet with Burks,
McCreight
and Pearson in Deer Isle, Maine
1995 May Haystack Experimental Workshop (5 days).
Nov McCreight first meets with Alan Bell and Kevin
Whitmore of Rio Grande.
Nov Articles appear in Modern Jeweler, Ornament, &
Jewelers Circular Keystone
1996 Mar Presentation at NCECA in Rochester, NY. (Burks)
Presentation at Newcastle, England. (McCreight)
Jun PMC introduced at SNAG conference in Washington, DC.
Aug First Masters Class, Portland, Maine. Four more follow in next 6 months.
Sep Rio Grande publishes first User’s Guide.
Oct McCreight films PMC video in Albuquerque.
Nov Articles in Lapidary Journal & American Jewelry
Manufacturer .
1997 Feb Website launched at www.pmclay.com.
1998 Feb First issue of “Studio PMC.”
1999 May First Certification class (St. Louis). Three more follow in next three months.
Jul Exhibition at Embellishments conference in Portland, Oregon.
Aug PMC Guild is incorporated.
2000 Jan CeCe Wire hired as Executive Director of PMC Guild.
2002 Jul First PMC Conference, Wooster, Ohio. 250 participants.
2004 Jun Aura 22 released.
Jul Second PMC Conference, Albuquerque, NM. 500
participants.
Sep Large exhibition of work by US artists in Japan.
2005 Jan Jeanette Landenwitch hired as Executive Director.
Feb Third edition of PMC web site launched.
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