A New Perspective on Plastic | August 31st, 2015
I am a magnet to just about anything that sparkles. The more sparkle the better, especially when it comes to vintage costume jewelry. That’s why I never would have thought I’d ever be drawn to UN-sparkly vintage jewelry. And I definitely wouldn’t have if it was not for my recent discovery…
Back in the 1930s, there were two chemical companies that rivaled each other – Rohm and Haas and another called Dupont. Both had scientists working for them who spent the decade developing a lightweight, shatter-resistant alternative to glass known as acrylic.
In 1935, Rohm and Haas launched their version first called Plexiglas. DuPont brought their version, “Lucite,” to the market in 1937. It could be dyed in a variety of colors ranging from transparent to opaque and could also be carved and polished.
Both of these materials were used by the military during World War II for making submarine periscopes, windshields, cockpits, and the noses of bomber planes. It had numerous advantages over glass which included resistance to the weather, chemicals, heat, and impact.
DuPont, however, was clever enough to license its new acrylic material, Lucite, to several costume jewelry manufacturers as well. It was inexpensive and more chemically stable than earlier plastics. Lucite then became a very fashionable material for costume jewelry of all kinds from the 1940s through the ’60s.
One of the first companies to embrace Lucite during the late-1930s was Trifari. They created clear, polished cabochons of Lucite to form the bellies of animal figural pins which became known as “Jelly Bellies” and were set in sterling silver or metal. Jelly Bellies produced right after World War II are highly desirable for many vintage costume jewelry collectors.
Lisner was another well-known costume jewelry company that made a large range of Lucite items in every color and shape imaginable. Throughout the 1950s, Lucite continued to be popular in a variety of accessories, including shoes and purses.
Another form of Lucite had a pearl-like sheen and was known as “moonglow.” It came in an assortment of colors and shapes, appearing to be lit from within. It was created to look like genuine moonstone jewelry but had a much lower price tag and was lighter in weight. It became one of the most popular forms of Lucite.
Here is a large pink moonglow and rhinestone clip earring from the 1950s that I repurposed into an adjustable ring:
Most Lucite pieces are molded. They are often referred to as “thermoset,” a term referring to any plastic that cannot be melted down again after being heated and formed.
The shapes are usually curved. Moonglow Lucite is one of the most popular forms of molded Lucite, often used in clip earrings such as this one from the 1960s that I repurposed into an adjustable ring:
The early ’60s were all about cheap and disposable. The “mods” (modernists) in London were drawn to modern shapes and vibrant colors. Mass-produced, inexpensive plastic jewelry made of Lucite and other acrylics was very trendy during this era.
After recently discovering a transparent Lucite with confetti and glitter embedded inside, I could no longer say that plastic jewelry had no sparkle.
Check out this very sparkly pair of orange confetti Lucite clip earrings:
Lucite did not do so well in the 1970s but made a huge comeback during the ’80s when garish plastic neon accessories became all the rage.
Its popularity did not end in the ’80s, though. I was very surprised to find out Lucite is still being produced and used in the manufacturing of jewelry and many other products today.
Last week, I had the opportunity to step into one of the most beautiful showrooms I have ever seen. It happened to be an acrylic furniture showroom. Everything from lamps, tables, lights, and the legs of beds and barstools were made of this crystal clear, translucent acrylic:
This was not the cheap-grade version that scratches easily and yellows over time. Rather, this was very high-quality acrylic (with a very high price tag). It is much thicker and has a luxurious, crystal look to it. Skillfully cut with incredible precision, each piece is bonded seamlessly together and then polished to perfection so the light can reflect beautifully at all angles.
You could even say it sparkles.
*Acrylic bar stool and occasional table from the showroom of Allan Knight and Associates in Dallas, Texas.
Repurposed 1960s vintage ring
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