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, 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    

Vintage Haute Couture Yves Saint Laurent Ysl Silver Tone & Red Lucite BraceletChunky Vintage Selro Selini Gold Plate Yellow Rhinestone Lucite BraceletVintage Lot Bracelet Rhinestone Tennis Bangle Lucite Copper Lisner Coro Bogoff!Lot Vtg Bakelite Celluloid Chunky Lucite Bangle Bracelets & Book Early PlasticVintage Signed Lisner Lucite & Rhinestones Necklace Bracelet Earrings SetVintage Lot Necklace Choker Clear Rhinestone Flower Thermoset Lucite Blue OrangeVintage Trifari Kashmir Green Red Gold Pearl Rhinestone Pin Brooch Earring SetHigh Quality Vintage Lot 72 Brooch Pin Rhinestone Flower Celluloid Lucite Beads!Signed Vintage Reverse Carved Lucite White Flower Love Birds Pin Brooch FrenchVintage Lot 70+ Necklace Pendant Charm Rhinestone Beads Chains Lucite Glass T37Vintage Lot Rings Lucite Glass Cz Cocktail Flower Enamel Rhinestone Figural P... Vintage Brooch Lucite Alligator 4'' LongTrifari Vintage Fx Turquoise Bead Strawberry Pin Brooch Brushed Gold Tone RareVintage Lot Bracelets Some Minor Repairs Lisner Florenza Coro Rhinestone LuciteVintage 1940s Large Carved Lucite Bird Parrot Eagle Red Yellow Enamel Pin BroochWow Vtg Lot 80 Earrings Rhinestone Flower Enamel Beads Cluster Lucite Glass T36Vtg Unsigned Inna Citrine Bracelet Massive Lucite Plated Scallop Runway CoutureHigh End Designer Vintage Purple Lucite Rhinestone Navette Costume BraceletVintage Jewellery Beautiful Reverse Carved Lucite Enamel Flower Brooch Pin Vintage Lot 140+ Brooch Pin Rhinestone Flower Enamel Figural Lapel Stick LuciteVintage Lanvin Paris Modernist NecklaceVtg Amazing Laminated Multi Color Pink Red Blue Lucite Thick Chunky Bracelet WowVintage Reverse Carved Lucite Flower Cactus Brooch Necklace Earring Lot 156.99 Estate Sale Signed Crn Trifari Green Jelly Belly Poodle Dog Brooch Philippe Signed Crown Trifari Vintage Bracelet Flower White Lucite Cluster Enamel X77Dazzling Vintage 1980s Clear Lucite Choker Necklace Crystal EndsAnne Klein Ornate Gold Tone Faceted Lucite Chain Necklace Toggle Bracelet SetMulti-color Seashells Gold Glitter Confetti Lucite Clamper Bracelet & Earrings17 Pair Lot Vintage Cluster Bead Lucite Clip Earrings Japan Germany Hong KongVintage Lot Gold Filled Bracelet Ace Charm Starter Heart Jade Lucite Antique ChaVintage Coro Confetti Red Lucite Rhinestone Silver Necklace Bracelet Earring SetVintage Trifari Fusha Pink Teal Green Purple Rhinestone Lucite Cabochon NecklaceVtg Estate Black Faceted Crystal Czech Art Glass Hexagon Lucite Bead NecklaceSigned Trifari C Mid-century Black Lucite 'orb' Cabs Gold 30" Long Vtg NecklaceVintage Selro Selini Asian Princess Clip Earrings Unsigned Lucite Faux IvoryVintage 80's Huge Chunky Leopard Plastic Lucite Hinge Clasp Cuff BraceletTrifari Spinner Necklace Modernist Lanvin Style Snake ChainUnusual Old Signed Fred Gray Tortoise Lucite And Brass Turtle Snap Back Clips?nrHuge Lot Fashion Jewelry Mix Necklace Bracelet Brooch Pin Lucite Flower Beads!Vintage Tortoise Shell Lucite 1 Inch Bangle BraceletNice Vintage Lucite Headhunter Brooch By Kenneth Jay LaneVintage Art Deco/89 Root Beer Lucite Winged Scarab Rhinestone Enamel NecklaceVintage Gold Coro Signed Ab Crystal Orange Confetti Lucite Rhinestone BraceletVintage Faux Ivory Lucite Bangle Bracelet ~ Comfortable~great Looking Bangle !!Haute Couture! Vintage Lucite Bakelite Faux Tortoise Shell Chunky NecklaceVtg Style Clear Iridescent Twist Lucite Plastic Stud Rhinestone Bangle BraceletVintage Sarah Cov Brooch Earrings Set Red Pink Lucite Cherry Or Apple Design Vintage 70's Rainbow Plastic Lucite Cuff Bracelet Multi ColorSigned Crown Trifari Vintage Bracelet White Lucite Cabochon Gold Tone Leaf X25Signed Cn Graziano Massive Purple Rose Lucite Rhinestone Gold-t 8" Cuff BraceletVtg 28" Necklace Flower Carved Cream Lucite Blue Crystal Rhinestone Sparkle X44 Vintage Signed Vendome Crystal Rhinestone Lucite Gold Glitter Lavender NecklaceVintage Art Deco Reverse Carved Lucite Intaglio Flowers BroochGorgeous Vtg Weiss Signed Navy Blue Bakelite Lucite Rhinestone Clip EarringsVintage High Quality Blue Lucite Rivoli Flower Silver Link Holiday Bracelet 33Vintage Mid Century Modernist Multi Color Lucite Geometric Bead Necklace 50"Signed Cn Graziano Massive Blue Rose Lucite Rhinestone Gold-t 8" Cuff BraceletRare! Celebrity Designer Alexis Bittar Cascading Coral Lucite Necklace Nr Vtg 1940s Elzac Painted Ceramic & Lucite Bunny Rabbit PinVintage Jewellery- 1950's Lucite Demi-parure By Napier Boxed Necklace, Earrings