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WHILE COSTUME JEWELRY is made from a great variety of materials, few have had the dramatic impact on the field as plastic.  This miracle material allows designers to fashion pieces in myriad different shapes and colors, sometimes as a gorgeous piece of plastic jewelry itself, as in many Lucite pieces, and even more often mimicking expensive fine jewelry pieces for a rich, bet-you-can’t-tell appearance. 

 

There are so many different plastics on the market today; it would take an encyclopedia to list all of them and their variants.  But they all share a number of properties. To start with, plastics are fantastic! They are almost always remarkably affordable, and yet there isn’t a serious jewelry designer around who hasn’t at one time or another been intrigued by their properties. 

 

If its costs were prohibitive, plastic would probably be as revered as the spectacular gemstones in the Taj Mahal.  Or, you might also relate plastic to cotton.  It is a miracle material, too, but because it is so affordable, it is often overlooked.  Lucky for us, the psychology that says expensive is always better is beginning to wane!  Plastic as a valuable material is coming into its own.

 

                                 Hi-Class Plastics a la Coco Chanel

 

PLASTICS IN VINTAGE JEWELRY represent a category that is especially fun to study and collect.  You might remember that Coco Chanel, the great diva of Parisian haute couture, originated costume jewelry to go with the outfits she created.  Plastics played an important role in her fantastic jewelry collection.  Today, many of those pieces are worth thousands of dollars in and of themselves.  You can also pay plenty for some more common-place vintage pieces. 

 

Lucite, as we already mentioned, is an extraordinary material.  It is an acrylic resin that, in jewelry, generally dates back to the 1940s.  It can be molded, cast, laminated, inlaid, and carved.  It can also be easily tinted, making its color possibilities just about limitless.  Equally intriguing is the fact that Lucite can be opaque or transparent, again widening the design possibilities for this versatile material. 

 

RIGHT NOW, LUCITE IS RAGING BACK  into popularity.  It is especially handsome when used for modern designs, opaque, transparent or translucent.  A number of exclusive jewelry firms offer wonderful collections of modern-design Lucite rings in a wide range of bright, if not brilliant colors. The rings are stunning, large, all one piece molded shapes, and relatively expensive, although they are being increasingly copied in the low-cost market. 

 

OF COURSE, YOU DON’T HAVE TO PAY THOSE HIGH PRICES!  LUCITE JEWELRY IS ALWAYS A SMART CHOICE FOR VALUE, BEAUTY, AND COST CONTROL. TRY THESE PIECES FOR EXAMPLE:

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                Color-Fabulous Bakelite Bangles

 

BAKELITE IS ANOTHER fun plastic– this one known most especially for its many uses in the 30s and 40s.  Back then, bakelite was used for so many items, it became almost pandemic.  Radios, telephones, kitchen utensils, poker chips and even billiard balls were just some of the everyday products given the advantage of bakelite composition. 

 

A vintage bakelite bangle bracelet from the 40s, say, is very desirable today, and can cost you hundreds of dollars.  The material was ideal for bangles, incidentally, because it was so easy to mold into a permanent shape!

 

The big advantage to bakelite is that it will not melt or burn and, once it has been heated and formed, it is impossible to melt it down and reform it.  That means that products made from bakelite stay true to shape and form.  Bakelite can also be carved, laminated, inlaid, and cast, making it an ideal material for jewelry. It can also be made in any color your imagination might come up with.  

 

                                                      Celluloid

 

CELLULOID JEWELRY generally dates from the turn of the 19th century to the 1930s, and while it allowed for some handsome, creative jewelry pieces during that time span, it also had many disadvantages that detracted from its wider use.  Celluloid jewelry is today sought-after for its vintage value. 

 

…BUT…pay attention:

 

Celluloid jewelry tends to be light and brittle and, if not cared for, it will crack and discolor.   Even more problematic, if it is stored with other jewelry, celluloid will often affect their color and composition, too.  Adding to the negative even more is the fact that celluloid is highly flammable.  Watch out for sparks.  Watch out for the kids.  Hey…watch out for celluloid!

 

COLLECTING PLASTIC JEWELRY FROM YESTERYEAR CAN BE A FASCINATING, EVEN MONEY MAKING PASTIME. OFTEN, HOWEVER, THE PLEASURE OF VINTAGE PLASTICS IS HEIGHTENED BY INCLUDING IN YOUR COLLECTION A NUMBER OF PIECES FROM TODAY, AS WELL.  HERE ARE SOME TERRIFIC EXAMPLES:

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Brilliant, chunky Baroque beading in this necklace mimics the bright color of yesterday’s bakelite jewelry – yet offers rich, updated design for a very trendy summer/fall look!
Comments (0) Posted by Mary McGarry on Friday, July 10th, 2009


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