The Studio – Jewelry Blog by Rio Grande

PMC: Early Days of Certification

Jan 21, 2011
7 Comments

In the early 1990s a Japanese company called Mitsubishi Materials patented an unusual material called Precious Metal Clay. It looked like putty and could be easily molded by hand, but after it was fired in a kiln it turned to solid silver. Truly hard to believe until you see it with your own eyes! I was lucky enough to be one of the first people to see PMC in action, and for me it still has a "Gee Whiz" factor.

Rio Grande became the distributor for PMC and I was invited to help introduce this odd new relation to the jewelry family. Articles were written, advertisements were printed, and some fearless artists came forward to check it out. The work those artists made intrigued others and word of mouth led to widespread interest. Because the material was so unlike anything that had come before, people wanted to learn to use it. We found ourselves in the unusual circumstance of having more students than qualified teachers.

These are examples of projects that make use of techniques taught in the PMC program.

I remember a meeting with representatives from both Mitsubishi Materials and Rio Grande. We were talking about ways to creatively meet this need. It was in everyone's interest to have people teaching PMC, but it was important that the teachers knew what they were talking about. The man from Mitsubishi told us that in his country they followed a specific curriculum that required all students to exactly duplicate the prescribed pieces. He suggested that we do the same thing here.

Honestly, I wasn't keen on the idea in the beginning. I'd taught dozens of workshops and taken dozens more and I didn't remember any that started with a rigid list of projects and ended with a test. Despite my doubts, the idea didn't fade and eventually my objections lessened. Over time, here's what I learned: Students who work on pre-established projects can focus on technique rather than design. I learned that these skills can be taught and practiced best when they are isolated from aesthetics. I became convinced that this method covers more ground, and in greater detail, than the format I was accustomed to. I now fully support the discipline of a standardized curriculum.

PMC beads. Another skill taught in the PMC program classes.

A plan was established: We would collaborate and call the program Rio Rewards. Mitsubishi would supply PMC, Rio would offer discounts to customers who participated in the program, and I would develop a curriculum. The program encompassed a series of projects that between them sampled all the skills necessary to work with PMC. Our goal was that students who completed an intensive three-day class would have confidence in his or her skills. For those who were on the road to teaching PMC classes, the lessons provided a starting point for their own workshop ideas.

The Education Department at Rio itemized the tools and materials that each student would need and compiled them into kits. Rio produced a booklet to accompany the class, and developed a discount schedule and financial details that still guide the program.

Pendants made from PMC.

To distinguish this workshop from the kind more generally seen in the craft world, we established a "certification" process wherein successful completion of the workshop projects, to a fixed standard, would earn the participants the title of Certified PMC Artisan — and significant discounts on PMC and related products.

The inaugural class was held in St. Louis in 1999. Since that first class there have been over 400 classes. To date, more than 3,000 people have successfully completed the program, with several dozen taking it twice because they got so much from it the first time. The Rio Rewards program now has ten instructors, each a hand-picked leader in the field and a respected teacher. Every year or so the crew gathers in a studio in Albuquerque to compare notes and ensure that the program continues to improve.

Wormtrails Pendant, made by Tim McCreight

When the certification program was originally developed, PMC was only offered in silver. A few years later, a new product called PMC+ was added to the line and class projects were changed to take advantage of its special properties. Over the years, the program has grown to include new products such as PMC3, Aura 22, and now, PMC PRO. The program is now a collaboration that evolves from instructors' ideas and feedback from the many students who take the class.

And the adventure will continue! If you’d like to get started with PMC, you can check out Rio’s classes here.

Tim McCreight

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Comments (7)
  1. Hi Tim, what a great post! It was really interesting to get more insight into the history and thought process behind the Rio Rewards certification. Thanks for sharing!

  2. that is great insight, I would love to get certified in PMC, unfortunately there are no classes in my area (the midwest). Do you have any recommendations?

  3. It’s wonderful that you offer these advanced classes for advanced students, but what about those of us beginnes would like to become advanced but don’t have access to quality instruction?

  4. Finding PMC classes can sometimes be difficult, depending on your location and situation. of course, keep your eyes open locally. Sometimes classes are offered at local studios or craft shops.

    If you are willing to travel, your options open up a bit more. You can almost always find a metal clay class at bead shows. Consider Bead & Button in Milwaukee, where they have a full week of classes organized. You can check their website here for details: http://www.beadandbuttonshow.com/. But there are lots of other bead shows that are offered across the USA, so keep an eye out. If you are outside the USA, I have less advice to give – but look for craft and hobby stores and inquire!

    Rio Grande also leads classes. We periodically offer PMC classes. Yvonne Padilla will be leading an intermediate PMC class, with a focus on stone-setting in PMC on March 4th. Come on down to Albuquerque, we’d be delighted to see you! Check out our full schedule here: http://riocalendar.brinkster.net/eim.aspx

    I’d also suggest you read the Yahoo group “metalclay”. You can find them here: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MetalClay/. You could inquire about any classes in your region, and I suspect you might find an instructor nearby.

    Thanks!

    – Kevin

  5. This is a great post! I always had heard the urban legend verision of the history of PMC.

  6. A question. Can one refire with enamel once the piece has been fired?

  7. All silver PMC’s except PMC PRO are fine silver. So once you fire your PMC3, PMC+ or Original Silver PMC, you have a fine silver article. Fine silver is a very good substrate for enamelling. However, I would burnish the surface. As fired PMC is slightly porous. Burnishing should tighten up the surface making it a better surface for enamelling.

    Hope this helps,

    Kevin


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