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!Vintage Lot Necklace Choker Clear Rhinestone Flower Thermoset Lucite Blue OrangeWow Vtg Lot 80 Earrings Rhinestone Flower Enamel Beads Cluster Lucite Glass T36High Quality Vintage Lot 72 Brooch Pin Rhinestone Flower Celluloid Lucite Beads!Vintage Lot Rings Lucite Glass Cz Cocktail Flower Enamel Rhinestone Figural P...Vintage Kjl Kenneth Jay Lane Lucite Faux Coral Rhinestone Drop Clip EarringsVintage Signed Lisner Lucite & Rhinestones Necklace Bracelet Earrings SetVintage Lot 70+ Necklace Pendant Charm Rhinestone Beads Chains Lucite Glass T37Vintage Reverse Carved Lucite Flower Cactus Brooch Necklace Earring Lot 156Vintage Jewellery Beautiful Reverse Carved Lucite Enamel Flower Brooch Pin True Vintage Sunny Bright Carved Huge 4" Lucite Bakelite Era Flower Brooch Pin!Anne Klein Ornate Gold Tone Faceted Lucite Chain Necklace Toggle Bracelet SetVintage Lot 140+ Brooch Pin Rhinestone Flower Enamel Figural Lapel Stick LuciteVintage Lot Bracelets Some Minor Repairs Lisner Florenza Coro Rhinestone LuciteVintage Bracelets Lot Celluloid Copper Lucite Rhinestones Cuff Clamper AntiqueVintage Trifari Gold & Lucite Grecian Style Necklace Unusual Shape 13" ChokerVintage Selro Selini Asian Princess Clip Earrings Unsigned Lucite Faux IvoryDazzling Vintage 1980s Clear Lucite Choker Necklace Crystal EndsDramatic Vtg Designer Turquoise Marbled Inlay Lucite Massive 3"+ Runway EarringsVintage Jewellery 50's Coro Lucite Leaf Necklace StunningVintage Trifari Fusha Pink Teal Green Purple Rhinestone Lucite Cabochon NecklaceMulti-color Seashells Gold Glitter Confetti Lucite Clamper Bracelet & EarringsVintage Lot Gold Filled Bracelet Ace Charm Starter Heart Jade Lucite Antique ChaVintage Deco Mosaic Lacquer Composition Aventurine Lucite Glass Bead Necklace17 Pair Lot Vintage Cluster Bead Lucite Clip Earrings Japan Germany Hong KongHuge Lot Fashion Jewelry Mix Necklace Bracelet Brooch Pin Lucite Flower Beads!Unusual Old Signed Fred Gray Tortoise Lucite And Brass Turtle Snap Back Clips?nrVintage Signed Lisner Red Carved Lucite Thermoset Frosted Leaves Rhinestone PinVintage 70's Rainbow Plastic Lucite Cuff Bracelet Multi ColorVintage Black & White Choker Collar Necklace Earrings Haute Couture Set TrifariVintage Lucite Brooch/pin - Reverse Carved Roses - 1.5" X 1.5" - 1940s/50sSigned Trifari C Mid-century Black Lucite 'orb' Cabs Gold 30" Long Vtg NecklaceVintage Black White Lucite Cameo Lady Gold Tone Brooch C Pin -d61Vtg Flower Brooch Lot Green Glass Colorful Lucite Rhinestone Golden Bar TurquoisVintage Lanvin Paris Modernist NecklaceRetro 1950's Green Confetti Lucite Necklace, Earrings, BraceletVtg Unsigned Inna Citrine Bracelet Massive Lucite Plated Scallop Runway CoutureVtg Style Clear Iridescent Twist Lucite Plastic Stud Rhinestone Bangle BraceletVintage Lot Necklace Multi Strand Lucite Beads Japan Hong Kong Germany Nice!Vintage Crown Trifari Peach Lucite Owl 'jelly Belly' Necklace~ Awesome!Vintage High Quality Blue Lucite Rivoli Flower Silver Link Holiday Bracelet 33Vintage Enamel 3d Flower Lot Of 8 Brooch Pins Lucite Staffordshire, GiovannVtg Lot 3 Bangle Bracelets Art Deco Style Black Lucite With Gold Dots Discs Vintage Lucite Silver Speckle Confetti Round Clip On EarringsSigned Cn Graziano Massive Blue Rose Lucite Rhinestone Gold-t 8" Cuff BraceletCrown Trifari Vintage Deep Red Lucite Modernist Choker Necklace & Clip EarringsVintage Multi Bright Colored Lucite Slice Bangle BraceletsNice Vintage Lucite Headhunter Brooch By Kenneth Jay LaneVintage Rhinestone Bracelet Lot Modern Bangle Cuff Encrusted Lucite Colorful Haute Couture! Vintage Lucite Bakelite Faux Tortoise Shell Chunky NecklaceGorgeous Vtg Weiss Signed Navy Blue Bakelite Lucite Rhinestone Clip EarringsAmusing Vintage Scottie Dog Brooch, LuciteVintage Tortoise Shell Lucite 1 1/2 Inches Bangle Bracelet2 Wide Retro Bracelets Floral Hinged & Thermoset Lucite Clasp Bracelet LotSigned Cn Graziano Massive Purple Rose Lucite Rhinestone Gold-t 8" Cuff Bracelet Vintage Signed Vendome Crystal Rhinestone Lucite Gold Glitter Lavender NecklaceLucite Ice Cube & Tongs Pin--2 3/4"--3 D-ice Cube Moves-green Handle Tips.(a82Vintage Lucite Injected White Polka Dot Red Bangle 1960s Candy Cane Colors