Developed in the 1930s, the clear acrylic plastic branded as Lucite became a wildly popular material for costume jewelry starting in the 1950s. Less expensive to produce than Bakelite, Galalith, and Catalin and more chemically stable than celluloid, Lucite made these earlier jewelry plastics obsolete.

In its pure form, Lucite is translucent, resembling glass or rock crystal, but it can be dyed in a wide range of colors and opacity, making it the perfect material for bold blocks of Mid-century Modern colors. Hard, water-resistant, and lightweight, Lucite can be carved and polished, and it is easy to wear.

The scientists at two rival chemical companies, DuPont and Rohm & Haas, spent the 1930s working on glass-like acrylic resins (a.k.a. polymethyl methacrylate). Rohm & Haas launched its version, the clear and nearly unbreakable Plexiglass, first in 1935. DuPont brought Lucite to the market in 1937.

Both of these materials were used by the military in periscopes, windshields, gunner turrets, cockpits, and the noses of bomber planes. Only, DuPont, though, was clever enough to freely license its new material to multiple costume-jewelry makers.

Trifari was the first to embrace this new plastic in the late 1930s, using large, clear cabochons of Lucite to imitate rock crystals and form the “bellies” of animal figural brooches known as Jelly Bellies. Head Trifari designer Alfred Philippe ran with this concept in the the 1940s, producing a whimsical Jelly Belly menagerie of hatching chicks, crowing roosters, proud poodles, ball-balancing seals, fat bumble bees, and regal elephants. One rare Jelly Belly pin even features tiny fish carved into a round Lucite tank, which a cat dangles from a chain.

A popular rumor about Jelly Belly is that they were manufactured from recycled World War II fighter windshields. The story, said to be in the historical archives of Trifari, goes that Philippe was surveying a pile of “unusable” material at an Air Force scrap heap and had a stroke of genius to carve the leftover acrylic into Jelly Belly cabochons.

Jewelry historian Bobye Syverson, who also flew and worked on some of the planes, questions this story, explaining that the windshields were only ¼ to ½ of an inch thick. Althoug...

Seeing how popular these brooches were after the war, Coro produced its own line under its Corocraft brand, including an angel fish. Trifari sued the company for stealing its idea, but soon other costume jewelers were releasing their own unsigned Jelly Bellies. While many animal figurines were made with colored Lucite bellies, to be considered a “true” Jelly Belly the acrylic must be clear.

In the 1950s, as modernism took hold, Lucite dominated costume jewelry and was used to make brightly colored all-plastic rings, bracelets, and bangles, as well as beads and ornaments on earrings and necklaces. It could be adapted to have a translucent coloring like “apple juice” or a pearl-like sheen known as “moonglow.” Lucite jewelry produced between 1940 and 1953 often included glitter, rhinestones, or sea shells, while translucent bangles could have designs carved into their interiors.

Lisner made a tremendous range of Lucite items, in every color and shape imaginable. Until recently, these pieces were dismissed by collectors, but now the popularity of these items is on the rise, particularly the colored Lucite oak-leaf pieces. In the ’50s, Lucite was still considered fairly classy, whittled into all sorts of figures and shapes and used for hard-side purses and even stiletto high-heel shoes.

In the early ’60s, the concept of disposable culture became something to celebrate, as seen in the cheap mod fashions sold on Carnaby Street in London and the rise of pop art. Mass-produced plastic jewelry was all the rage among the trendy, as Lucite was turned into fake-looking flower pins, as well as bracelets made of mahjong tiles.

At the same time, geometric Space Age fashion by haute couture designers like Cardin and Courèges encouraged PVC dresses and accessories of Lucite and Perspex (another acrylic). “Architec-jewels” made of Lucite in bold black-and-white op-art styles were sold as high fashion.

Costume and “junk” jewelry fell out of favor in the ’70s, even as Lucite was used in disco platform shoes. But acrylic jewelry made a comeback in the 1980s when garish, artificial-looking neon-colored pieces came into fashion.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Researching Costume Jewelry

Researching Costume Jewelry

Jewelry lovers, venture through this amazing database of vintage jewelry articles, catalogs, and brochures, as well… [read review or visit site]

Emerald City Vintage Costume Jewelry

Emerald City Vintage Costume Jewelry

It looks like we're not in Kansas anymore with Elizabeth Rowlands' site on vintage costume jewelry from the 1940s a… [read review or visit site]

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Jewelry collectors, feast your eyes on this internet gem! It's a goldmine of jewelry information featuring all styl… [read review or visit site]

All About Jewels Dictionary

All About Jewels Dictionary

This incredible reference dictionary on jewelry, from Enchantedlearning.com, is both beautiful and comprehensive. S… [read review or visit site]

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

With its vast galleries featuring clear images of jewelry and style, this site really covers it all! Divided up by … [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Sign Har Vintage Bracelet Asia Molded Glass Lucite Dragon Rhinestone Rare! 373Unsigned Hattie Carnegie Vintage Brooch Pin Lucite Glass Rhinestone Pegasus 28723 Vtg Bakelite Catalin Lucite Plastic Bangle Bracelets Rs Carved Striped SwirlLot Of 19 Vintage Bracelets Bangles Bakelite Lucite Marbled Carved Colorful Huge Vintage 1980's Floral Rhinestone Gold Tone Mesh Runway Costume NecklaceVintage Necklace Beautiful 1920's Bluebell Lucite Flowers Glass Blue DelightfulVintage Earrings Lot Huge Cluster Bead Glass Crystal Lucite Shell T3Antique Art Deco Necklace Pendant Nouveau Lucite Cabochon Floral Unique! 226Massive Vtg Haute Couture Molded Lucite Crystal Clear Abstract Rare Runway CuffVintage 1940s Lucite Ceramic Lady Face Brooch Pin African Mambo Carmen MirandaVintage Hand Carved 1940's Lucite Bumble Bee Brooch 1-3/4 X 2 InchesVintage Victorian Revival Pink Lucite Fringe Necklace Bracelet 4 Earrings SetSign Coro Vintage Bracelet Mid Century Molded Lucite Flower Glass Rhinestone 45Vintage Trifari Gold-tone Green Jelly Lucite Starfish Brooch PinVntg Beautiful Clear Lucite Mexican Man PinVintage Jewellery Pink Rhinestone/lucite Flower BraceletVintage Costume Jewelry Lot Lucite Plastic Bakelite Necklace Bangle BraceletAwesome Vintage Unsigned Castlecliff Lucite Fish Bowl NecklaceSign Lisner Vintage Necklace Pendant Mold Thermoset Lucite Rhinestone Floral 278Vintage Bakelite ? Lucite ? Yellow And Black Faceted Bangle BraceletVintage Corocraft Jelly Belly Fish Brooch Pin 1940 FiguralVintage Lucite Horse Hed Brooch/pinVintage Trifari Lucite Brooch Bracelet Set Designed By Kunio Matsumoto JewelryLisner Signed Green Molded Lucite Leaf Rhinestone Necklace Cluster Earrings Lot!Expo World's Fair 1970 Dried Flower Lucite Dome RingCoro Signed Vintage Set Red Confetti Lucite Necklace, Bracelet & EarringsGorgeous Vintage Bracelet Earring Set Moon Lucite Cabochon Rhinestone Floral 163Yellow Beehive Bee Lucite Forbidden Fruit Pin Brooch Austria 1940s Vintage Monet Wisteria Lucite Bubble Bakelite Era Necklace Bracelet Set Art DecoTrifari Modernist Crystal Lucite Necklace Earring Set W/ Original TagsVintage Style Necklace Faceted Blue Lucite Glass Rhinestone Silver Tone Wow 1255Vintage Bracelet Bangle 8" Marbled Lucite Fashionable Neat! 1343Amber Lucite Bangle With Chinese Dragon Design InsideVintage 1950's Confetti Glitter Plastic Lucite Bypass Hinged Clamper BraceletAwesome Vintage Retro Lucite/plastic Black/stripe Bangle BraceletSigned Disney Clear Lucite & Rhinestone Cinderella's Carriage PinVintage Lisner Bracelet Earrings Rhinestone Lucite Leaves Spring Green SilvertonVintage Trifari Coral Teardrop Shaped Lucite NecklaceVintage Butterscotch~cherry~green~purple Lucite Amber Graduated Bead NecklaceVintage Carved Painted Wood Lucite Cowgirl Pin WesternSigned Monet Vintage Necklace Pendant Clear Lucite Faceted Drop Gold Tone! 229Vintage Brooch Pin Earring Set Mid Century Enamel Spring Flower Lucite Nice! 144Lot Vintage Modern Necklace Pendant Glass Lucite Flower Leaf Mop Rhinestone A10Vintage Trifari Pink Flower Clip On Earrings RareVintage Monet Lilac Gren Lucite Cabochon Maltese Cross 10k Gold Plate Pin BroochVintage Bangle Bracelet Early Plastic Lucite Lot Of - 5 Vtg-1970's-80's-neon Monet Lucite Chunky Purple, Red & Cobalt & Black NecklaceVtg Large Cocktail Rings Art Sarah Coventry Chico's Art Glass Rhinestone Lucite (6) Vintage Bracelets~stone~lucite~milk Glass~hinged Bangle~ab BeadsVintage Signed Crown Trifari Lucite White Strawberry Brooch PinExtremely Large Unique Mid Century Horse Pin Brooch Lucite & WoodVintage Lucite Squares And Gold Tone Beads NecklaceVtg. Coro 4 Piece 1950's Lucite Red & Goltone Necklace Bracelet & Earring SetGivenchy Signed Vtg Runway Gold Plated Blue Lucite Necklace & Earrings Set MintVtg Link Large 2" Wide Bracelet Faux Jage Green Lucite Purple Rhinestone Pearl Vintage Butterfly Wing Bracelet Gorgeous Confetti Lucite Acrylic Red & Clear Colored Aspirin Pill Square Bangle BraceletVintage Vendome Jewelry Acrylic Lucite Flower Clip On Earrings Red RhinestonesHuge 96 Pc Vintage Retro Mod Plastic Lucite Bangle Bracelet LotVintage Coro Bracelet - Silver Tone - Shades Of Blue Lucite(?) - Nice! - 030104