One of the most popular types of collectible vintage jewelry is lucite. You may own several pieces of Lucite costume jewelry and not even know it! So what exactly is it? Lucite is an acrylic resin created by DuPont in 1937. This lightweight material became less expensive to make than other plastic jewelry at the time, launching a golden age of acrylic jewelry.
Lucite replaced other staples of plastic jewelry including Bakelite, Catalin, celluloid and Galalith. Acrylic plastic substances, such as Lucite, were designed to replace glass windows in homes, but DuPont licensed companies to make jewelry out of this stuff.
When Lucite Was Popular
The period of prosperity for Lucite started in the early 1940s and ran until the 1950s, although companies continued to make pieces into the 1970s. The most valuable and desirable pieces to collectors date back to the golden age when artisans took Lucite to an extreme art form.
Why Jewelry Makers Loved Lucite
Lucite was unique and popular in the 1940s and 1950s as a way to make jewelry for several reasons. It was inexpensive to make, so manufacturers could mass-produce items for everyone to buy in the post-World War II era. The substance is hard, water-resistant and lightweight. This substance stands up to polishing, carving, cutting and heating. Factories could add every possible hue to Lucite to make majestic, multicolored pieces. The acrylic plastic substance can be transparent, translucent or opaque, thereby creating even more styles of jewelry from which to choose.
Different Types of Lucite Jewelry
Lucite comprised every kind of jewelry available during its heyday, including earrings, bracelets, necklaces, brooches and rings. Collectors also find Lucite in vintage box purses. Because of the substance's versatility, manufacturers turned this acrylic into interesting shapes, seamless designs and vibrant color schemes. Jewelry makers still produce items out of Lucite, so collectors must know how to tell contemporary and retro-style pieces from authentic, vintage jewelry.
Identifying Features of Vintage Lucite Jewelry
Makers of vintage Lucite pieces typically followed a few recognizable styles popular at the time. Beads that look like glass were fashionable at the time. Experts may have trouble discerning vintage Lucite beads from actual glass pieces.
– Embedded jewelry proved popular during the golden age, especially for earrings or pins. The outer portion of the piece is clear, whereas the center has a colored piece of acrylic in the shape of a flower, seashell or gem.
– “Confetti” pieces of Lucite comprise transparent material that contains small chips or glitter encased within the jewelry. Typical confetti pieces include brooches, buttons and pendants.
– Jelly Bellies were made by Trifari starting in the late 1930s as a way to mimic crystal patterns that formed the basis for the bellies of animal shapes. Clear Lucite cabochons became part of roosters, poodles, bumblebees and elephants. Each animal had a round piece of Lucite as its main shape, which gave animals a plumpy, whimsical look.
– Moonglow Lucite appears to glow from within, much like real moonstone. Manufacturers made every kind of jewelry into moonglow Lucite, so collectors look for the distinctive shine. Moonglow occurs in every possible color in translucent and transparent pieces.
– Granite pieces of Lucite imitate what real granite looks like, which means a marbled look with many swirling colors. Granite pieces are usually opaque with flecks of different-colored Lucite within them in just about any color combination imaginable. Granite Lucite is a clear mark of a vintage piece as opposed to a contemporary bauble.
Vintage Lucite pieces are very common, so aficionados can look for high-quality pieces that increase the value of this style of jewelry. Original Jelly Bellies in great condition fetch the highest prices of any vintage Lucite pieces. Mint condition pieces may be hard to find because some plastics scratch easily. Collectors may look for bright colors, signed pieces by vintage artists or Lucite jewelry with original tags still attached.
Online auction sites represent one of the best ways to gauge prices of vintage pieces, and all it takes is a simple search for “vintage Lucite jewelry” in the search box. A Jelly Belly frog pin on eBay has a list price of $1,350 in excellent condition. A mermaid Jelly Belly riding a fish has a price of $1,185, as of January 2016. Some collectors find vintage designers from the 1970s to have some value for high-end pieces.Lucite can be a great way to start a vintage jewelry collection since there are so many styles, price ranges and colors. Share some of your favorite Lucite designs in the comments below!