I have been interested in using rare earth magnetic clasps in polymer pieces for a long time but haven’t done any work on them lately. My interest was rekindled when I signed up for Curious Mondo’s 2023 Polymer Clay Symposium and watched Belgian polymer artist Allison Cohade demonstrate how to make a brooch with a magnetic fastener. Even though the demo was complimentary, the technique is not mine to share. You can purchase the entire 2023 symposium here. I don’t know if there is a way to purchase the video as a single tutorial, but it never hurts to ask.
My prior experiments with magnetic clasps involved hiding the magnets in the beads of the necklace in unexpected ways and places, instead of making the magnet clasp the focal, or placing it at the back of the necklace where most clasps are usually found.
Of course, one of the big problems with using magnets with polymer is that magnets become weak when you bake them, (although they now have magnets you can bake and they won’t lose their strength. If I try them, I will post about it.) So you have to find an artful way of incorporating them into the clay.
But then I had an aha moment. You don’t bake metal or wood or a myriad of other materials that you use to make jewelry, and yet I see wood and metal jewelry with magnetic components all the time. So, what’s the big problem? That problem is how to attach them to to clay and either integrate them into the design, or make them invisible. So it’s not a clay problem as much as a design problem.
There are (generally speaking) two ways to attach jewelry components: mechanically, (examples are bezels, prongs, soldering, and wire bending meant to capture a stone, a chain, or a finding), or chemically (glue). Traditionally, jewelers frowned on chemical attachments. But there’s a school of thought that says that if people like Faberge and Cartier had access to the quality of glues we have today, they’d have used glue. I’ll leave that for you to decide.
We usually glue rare earth magnets onto polymer. Is this chemical attachment enough to hold them in place permanently? Some authorities suggest that it is. Here are some tips.
I think that making magnetic brooches might present less of a challenge than magnetic clasps because you never see the back of the brooch. It’s hidden when the brooch is worn. Then again, you want the back of the brooch and the magnets to look great anyway because this is a hallmark of good craftsmanship.
K&M Magnetics has a handy guideline sheet for making magnetic brooches. This site discusses the pros and cons of pin brooches vs. magnetic brooches. Here’s a video on how to make a non-polymer magnetic brooch which might give you some ideas.
Donna Kato has a great video with instructions for making a magnetic clasp up on her YouTube channel. I am trying variation on her methods and will post my results here, along with some of my own ideas. Speaking of Donna’s channel, you really need to watch every one of her videos, even if you consider yourself advanced. You are guaranteed to learn something. This is an incredibly valuable resource that’s available for free, so why not check it out?