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 Bakelite Applejuice Rootbeer Carved Bakelite Lucite Art Deco Pin Lot 18 Vintage 50's Silver And Gold Lucite Confetti Clamper Bracelet Earring SetVintage Carved Lucite Bakelite Scottie Scotty Dog Brooch Pin Glass Eye LargeVintage Rockabilly Uber Carved Lucite Zig Zag Bakelite Era Bangle Bracelet Mint!Lot Of 10 Bakelite, Lucite And Plastic Bracelets.Lot Of 14 Bakelite, Lucite And Plastic Bracelets.Fabulous! Huge Lot 35 Vintage Cluster Bead, Lucite, Screwback, Clip On Earrings(10) Vintage Lucite Plastic Bangle Bracelets~great Lot!Vintage 16pc Lucite Moonglow Thermoset Confetti Lot-set Bracelets Earrings StoneSign Whiting Davis Vtg Cameo Lucite Cuff Bracelet & Earring Set Bas Relief B513Vintage Translucent Lisner Molded Lucite Maple Leaf Pin & Ab Rhinestone Brooch 3 Vintage Sunshine Clear Injected Ball Dot Bakelite Lucite Era Bangle Bracelets!Huge Runway Rockabilly Jet Black Belt Bakelite Lucite Era Bangle Bracelet Mint!Wonderful 8 Piece Lot Of Vintage Retro Bakelite & Plastic/lucite BucklesVintage Silver-tone Clear Rhinestone Pink Lucite Necklace Earrings Demi-parureVintage Art Deco Etched Carved Clear Lucite Chunky Dangle Brooch PinVintage Carved Faux Coral Turquoise & Jade Lucite Boy Riding Koi Fish Brooch PinBeautiful Signed Nolan Miller Flower Crystal Purple Lucite Pin BroochWowzer! Mod Art Deco Chunky Injected Dot Lucite Bakelite Era Bangle Bracelet!Lot Of Vintage Bakelite, Lucite & Plastic Brooches, Necklaces, Belt Buckle, MoreVintage 80's Huge Chunky Leopard Plastic Lucite Hinge Clasp Cuff BraceletWowzer! Mod Art Deco Chunky Injected Dot Lucite Bakelite Era Bangle Bracelet!Vintage Deeply Carved Green Lucite Celluloid Leaf Design Bangle Bracelet Cuff Vintage Capri Signed Maltese Cross Turquoise Coral Lucite Gold Pearl Pin Brooch Gorgeous Huge Inna Cytrine Paris Lucite&gold Tone Metal Hinged Bangle BraceletVintage Gold Tone 5 Strand Black Bead Lucite 16" Choker NecklaceBeauiful Vintage Dior Lucite Orange And Gold Chain BraceletVintag Givenchy Paris, Ny Burgandy Red, Purple, Blue, Green Lucite Bead NecklaceVtg Chunky Lucite Mid Century Modern Mcm Gold Tone Hinged Bangle BraceletVintage Burnt-orange Confetti Lucite Cabochon Bracelet EarringsLot Of Vintage Cameos Brooches Earrings Florenza Bakelite LuciteCrown Trifari 60's Modernist Purple Lucite Waterfall Chandelier PendantVintage Signed Vendome Blue Ab Crystal Confetti Lucite Glass Seed Bead NecklaceVintage Chunky Wide Lucite Rhinestone Faux Pearl Bracelet Matching Earrings NrVintage Weiss Thermoset Lucite Clamper BraceletAmazing Givenchy Couture Lg Clip Earrings Lucite Teal Green Blue Cabochon 80'sVintage Estate Designer Glass Lucite Bead Flower Cluster Costume Earrings 8p LotVintage 3 Strand Graduated Moon Glow Thermoset Lucite Beaded Necklace Green(28) Pair Vintage Earrings~thermoset Lucite~van Dell~wendell August~lisnerBlue Thermoset Bracelet & Earrings----demi Parure----coro----1950s-----vintageVintage Lucite Plastic Bangle Bracelet Lot Pink Orange Purple Red White BlueVintage Plastic Thermoset Confetti Lucite Moonglow Clip Screw Earring Lot Of 15Vintage 50's Chunky Plastic Lucite Bead Necklace Multi 2 Strand Signed Trifari(4) Vintage Wide Link Bracelets Lucite Rhinestones + 1 Pr Matching EarringsVintage Jewellery 50's Lucite Rhinestone Flower Earrings Clip On2 Antique Charm Bracelet~7 Bakelite/lucite/vintage Plastic Charms~bells & More~Bakelite Grapes Clip & Comb Saucer Bangle Lucite Bracelet Plastic LotVintage 80's Goldtone & White Lucite Bead Necklace & Earring Set Trifari TmVtg Purple Rhinestone & Glass Stones W/ Pink Lucite W/gold Brooch Pin & Er SetVtg Haskell Style White Lucite & Rhinestone Toppers 3 Strand Wrap Bracelet J Crew Square Link Long 30" Lucite Necklace - Black & TortoiseBeautiful Hattie Carnegie Signed Glass And Lucite Blue Beaded NecklaceVintage Jewellery Unusual Reverse Carved Roses Lucite Panel BraceletAaaamazing Vintage Gold Leo Lion In Lucite Large Pendant Gorgeous Detail And OnVintage Estate Reverse Carved Lucite Pink Roses Flowers Brooch Pin Jl15347Signed Givenchy Paris New York 1978 Stick Pin Chain Lucite Circle F621Vintage Lucite Clip Earring HolderVintage Coro Colorful Confetti Lucite Clear Rhinestone Link BraceletVintage 60's Chunky Plastic Lucite Bangle Bracelet Bright OrangeVintage Lisner Amber Lucite & Rhinestone Floral Bouquet Brooch Pin