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Faux Plique-a-jour Earrings

Plique-a-jour is an enameling technique where there is no backing or base to hold the enamel. The result is like a glass painting in miniature. I found this technique so lovely that I wanted to try to copy it in polymer clay, something that proved to be quite challenging.

I tried different frames for the “enamel” and added silver leaf, but the leaf crackled and didn’t cover the frame properly. It was also difficult to add metal paint so I landed eventually on mica powder.

Creating the frame for the "plique-a-jour enamel" presented more challenges. I first tried using a clay gun to make “jewelry wire like” snakes. But that did not look nice as it was difficult to get the joints smooth. It was also difficult not to distort the roundness of the snakes. I also found that the plique-a-jour frame must be solid, not too thin or light. The “enamel” is liquid polymer clay, and if not in a solid frame, the whole piece will be very soft and can be bent like rubber.

I ended up cutting the Plique-a-jour frame from a sheet of clay, using shape cutters and templates. After a few attempts, I learned to make the frame as smooth and accurate as possible. Once you have added the mica powder, you cannot sand the piece, so every flaw will remain forever unless removed before curing.

One advantage with this faux plique-a-jour technique is that you can use scrap clay. Like me, you probably have plenty of it from other projects. Unless you want a particular color on the frame instead of metallic, you can use the scrap clay since the color will be covered with the mica powder.

The technique is a bit time consuming though, but don’t be discouraged. It is worth the waiting. So, do you want to give it a try?

What you need to make these faux plique-a-jour earrings:

Step 1:
Condition the scrap clay well. Run it through a medium setting on your pasta machine. Dust the clay with some cornstarch and use a texture plate to make a pattern. Use the template to cut out two oval shapes.
Step 2:
Use the template again, and cut out a smaller oval from each of the ones you made in step 1. Remove it carefully so that you don’t distort the shapes.
Step 3:
From the smaller ovals, cut out an even smaller one and remove it. You are now left with two rings, like you see on the photo.
Step 4:
Use a small round shape and cut out a disk from the ovals you removed in step 3. Use a smaller round shape to cut out the last disk, so that you again have made a ring. Place this ring inside the two you made earlier.

Step 5:
Cut some small, thin strips and place them between the outer and the middle rings, like you see on the photo. Use a rubber brush to smooth the joints. Smooth the outer edge of the largest ring, so that it is a bit rounder.
Step 6:
Dust the shapes with mica powder. I have used Pearl-ex silver on these. Cure the pieces for 30 minutes and let them cool down. Remove them from the tile and wash the tile clean of mica powder. Dry it thoroughly so that no water is left and put the shapes back onto the tile. The smallest ring is loose, but just put it where it originally was.
Step 7:
Pour some liquid polymer clay in a cup or paint palette. Use a thin brush or a bamboo rod to fill the cells with liquid clay. Do not over fill them. This first layer will act as a base for the colored clay you will use a little later, so it doesn’t have to be thick.

When done, leave them on the tile for 30 minutes so that trapped air can rise to the surface. Cure them for 20 minutes and leave them to cool off entirely. When it comes out of the oven, the liquid clay looks frosted. You need to reheat it with a heat gun for it to become transparent. When it is transparent, leave it to cool again.

Step 8:
Pour some liquid polymer clay in three of the compartments on the paint palette. Add one drop of ink to each and stir until the ink and clay is thoroughly blended.
Step 9:
Fill the compartments with colored clay the same way as you did in step 7. You can fill them fuller this time, but do not over fill them. Leave it for 30 minutes like in step 7, cure them for 20 minutes and reheat them with a heat gun, like in step 7. The colored clay will turn from frosty to transparent.

You have now done the front of the earrings.

Step 10:
When the earrings are cold, cut a new clay ring like you did in step 1 and 2. Place it onto the back of the earrings. Smooth the edge around the outer side of the earrings so that you remove all gaps. Apply mica powder onto the ring. Be careful so that you don’t get mica powder onto the transparent parts. If you do, wipe it away with a baby wipe. Cure the earrings for 30 minutes.
When cured leave the earrings to cool off. When cold, pour liquid polymer clay into the cell at the back of the earrings. Leave for half an hour for trapped air to rise to the surface. Then cure them for 20 minutes. When they are cold again, reheat the back with a heat gun to make the clay transparent.

Make a hole at the top of each earring and insert a large jump ring. Attach the ear wires with a smaller ring, and your faux plique-a-jour earrings are done.

I am not overall happy with the result of the faux Plique-a-jour. The liquid clay does not turn hard, but remains a bit rubbery, and the earrings look a bit like plastic. However it was fun to give it a try and I will continue to develop the technique into something that looks more exclusive. I am sure that there are many ways to use it, and you may develop it into something unique yourself.

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