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    

Vintage 1960’s Crown Trifari Modern Mosaics Blue Green Butterfly Brooch31pc Vintage Antique Cameo Jewelry Lot G.f,sterling,shell,lucite,brooch,braceletRare Alexis Bittar Sun Kissed Pink Lucite Bangle Bracelet Bag & Free Ship- Mint!Hattie Carnegie Vintage Retro Elephant Brooch LuciteVintage Mid Century Lucite Hinged Cuff Pink Metallic Confetti Clamper BraceletHuge Lot Gold Tone Jewelry Vintage To Now Rhinestone Pearl Lucite GlassVintage Carved Olive Green Bakelite Bangle BraceletVintage Ferragamo Italy Signed 2 Lucite Geometric Amethyst Mod Bangle BraceletsHuge Lot 33 Gorgeous Vintage Flower Leaf Brooch Pins Enamel Lucite Rhinestone Job Lot Deco Vintage Jewellery Lucite Earrings,necklace,silver Pendant,broochLot Of Vintage Plastic/lucite/ Bakelite Jewelry, Pins & EarringsVtg 80s Christian Dior Rhinestone Ball Chunky Lucite Gold Dress Chain NecklaceHuge Lot Estate Jewelry Genuine Stones Rhinestone Lucite Sterling Beautiful LotTwo Lucite Carved Ladies Pins And Pair Of Bakelite Apple Ear RingsHuge Lot Beautiful Exotic Jewelry Gold Tones Rhinestones Rings Signed Lucite WowKelly Wearstler (kwid) Chunky Lucite BraceletVintage Signed Crown Trifari White & Yellow Modern Mosaics Bow Brooch Repair 1pcRare Alexis Bittar White Silver Lucite Bangle Bracelet Bag & Free Ship- Mint!Yosca Necklace Runway Bib Massive Lucite Glass Mod Extremely Hard To Find RarestCastlecliff Lucite Gold Fish Bowl Fancy Gold Tone Twisted Chain NecklaceRare Vintage Yves Saint Laurent (ysl) Lucite Statement Runway NecklessSigned Coro Thermoset Lucite Confetti Necklace Choker Black Sparkle Vintage 5258(4) Vintage Carved Lucite Estate Bangle BraceletsRare Vintage Huge One Of A Kind Green Lucite Bracelet BangleVintage 80-90s Chunky Glass Crystal Rhinestone Lucite Drop Bib Collar NecklaceHuge Lot Designer Signed Silver Tone Jewelry Rhinestones Lucite Nice PerfectArt Deco Vtg Carved Cameo Celluloid Lucite Oval Shape Black Mourning Pin BroochHuge Runway Rockabilly Swirl Clear Carved Bakelite Lucite Era Bangle Bracelet!Vtg Chunky Faux Faberge Egg Blue Lapis Lucite Gold Tone Long Sautoir Necklace NrLovely Vintage Coro Pegasus Signed Rhinestone Pink Moonglow Thermoset NecklaceFabulous Vtg. Signed Chanel Season 25 Cc Logo Lucite Clip Earrings- 3 3/8" LLot Vintage Acrylic Lucite Plastic Bakelite Bangles Bracelet Day Glo Pink YellowVintage Estate Designer Blue Lucite & Wood Chunky Bangle Costume BraceletVintage 60s Huge Chunky Turquoise Blue Plastic Lucite Bead Bib Necklace GoldetteVintage Lisner Grass Green Lucite Jelly & Rhinestone Bracelet Earrings Set Vintage Art Deco Carved Lucite Resin Spinach Green Bead Necklace18 Gorgeous Vintage Colorful Faux Pearl Multi-strand Necklace Lot - Some SignedHuge Lot Silver Tone Jewelry Rhinestone Shell Lucite Whole Cameo Beads EarringsVintage Bangle Bracelets Lucite / Plastic Lot Of 6Vintage Trifari Cream Colored Lucite Modernist NecklaceVintage 80's Funky Hot Pink & Black Lucite Massive Chandelier Pierced EarringsTrifari Coral Lucite Gold Tone Bead Necklace Bracelet SetVintage Judy Lee Sky Blue Moonglow & Ab Rhinestone Bracelet & Clip On EarringsVintage Bracelets Thin Bangles Costume Lot Plastic Lucite 1980sHuge Lot Vintage Jewelry Colorful Moonglow Plastics Lucite Mixed Lot UnusualHuge Runway Art Deco Rare Silver Gray Bakelite Lucite Era Bangle Bracelet!Vintage Confetti Lucite Clip On & Screw Back Earrings Lot Of 3 Great ShapesVintage 1960's Lisner Choker & Bracelet Set Lucite StunningVintage Moonglow Lucite Thermoset Plastic Drop Necklace And Pierced EarringsVtg Crown Trifari Gold-tone Necklace Moghul Style Frosted Lucite Dangle Pendant Kunio Matsumoto For Trifari Purple Lucite Accents Modernist Necklace 34"Vintage Chunky Wide Chain Link Bracelet Pink Lucite Flowers Coro 1"w 7.5"l Vintage 50's Art Glass Plastic Lucite Bead Necklace Earring Set Multi 3 StrandVintage 70's Chunky Plastic Lucite Fabric Encased Bangle Bracelet Blue WhiteLarge Vintage Crown Trifari Orange Lucite Modernist Necklace6 Vtg Crown Trifari Lot Necklace Earrings Gold Silver Tone Lucite Enamel SignedVintage Clear Foil Entrapped Confetti Lucite Bangle BraceletVintage Christian Dior Gold Tone Rope Blue Marbled Lucite Earrings SignedKenneth Jay Lane Interchangeable Cabochon Teardrop Pierced Earrings W/ Box - KjlVintage Lot Of Costume Jewelry Lucite Prystal Rhinestone Enamel