How to Apply Metal Leaf to Jewelry

Written by nora zavalczki
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How to Apply Metal Leaf to Jewelry
You can apply metal leaf to plain or textured surfaces. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)

Metal leaf is a malleable metal sheet having the thickness of a piece of paper. You can apply metal leaf to various surfaces such as plastic, metal, wood, stone or plaster. Metal leaf, especially gold and precious metal leaves, are used to adorn icons, pottery, paintings, furniture, sculptures or jewellery. Gold, silver, copper, aluminium or brass are metals that are available in the form of a leaf. Metal leaf is applied to jewellery through a process known as cold gliding.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Detergent
  • Soft sponge
  • Fine-grit sandpaper
  • Glider's varnish
  • Paintbrush
  • Metal leaf
  • Varnish or spray fixative

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  1. 1

    Clean the surface on which you want to apply metal leaf. Use a detergent and a soft sponge. Metal leaf sticks to metal, polymer clay, ceramics or wood, so you can use it for a wide range of jewellery pieces.

  2. 2

    Sand the piece of jewellery so that the surface is matt and the leaf will adhere better.

  3. 3

    Apply the adhesive, also known as glider's varnish or size, on the surfaces that you want to decorate. Use a small paintbrush.

  4. 4

    Allow the size to be partially dry, but still tacky. Drying and tack times vary according to the adhesive and the metal leaf you use, so check the label of the product you buy.

  5. 5

    Remove a metal leaf from its book. Metal leaves are sold in books that contain several leaves. Handle the leaf carefully because it is extremely fragile. Tear a piece of metal leaf that is slightly larger than the area you want to decorate. Roll the leaf on the handle of your brush.

  6. 6

    Apply the leaf on the jewellery piece, and burnish it using a small brush or the tip of your fingers. The leaf sticks to the areas treated with size. Remove the excess leaf with a brush.

  7. 7

    Varnish the areas on which you applied metal leaf. Gold leaf doesn't necessarily need varnishing because it's not prone to discolouration. However, you will need to varnish any other types of metal leaf.

Tips and warnings

  • Metal leaves come in various thicknesses; choose one that is suitable for your project.
  • Patinate brass or copper jewellery with cupric nitrate prior to applying the size and the metal leaf to ensure the metal leaf adheres to the metal.
  • If working with porous surfaces such as bisque-fired ceramics or wood, seal the surface with a primer.
  • The glider's varnish may be quick-drying or slow-drying. Use quick-drying varnish for small projects such as jewellery decoration. The quick-drying varnish dries within one hour, which gives you enough time to work with the metal leaf.
  • Obtain a thicker metal texture by applying two or several layers of metal leaf.
  • Patinate the metal using different colours over the areas decorated with metal leaf and wipe off parts of the paint.
  • Obtain textures by scratching the decorated surface with a sharp needle. The needle removes the metal leaf and reveals parts of the material the jewel is made of.

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