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Plastic Jewelry Information

Back Gutta Percha, Celluloid, Bakelite, Lucite and Hard Plastics
  Man-made plastics that have been used in vintage plastic jewelry can be divided into five basic categories, in chronological order from the time that they were introduced: Early Plastics, Celluloid, Bakelite, Lucite, and Hard Plastics.
Early Plastics:  Gutta Percha, is a dark brownish opaque material. Pieces of jewelry made from this were often molded with classical motifs in relief, resembling cameo-type pieces. Vulcanite was produced from rubber and the color is a deep brownish black. Galalith, a milk protein hardened with formaldehyde, is a bright creamy white.
Celluloid:  This was developed in the late 1860s.  It is one of the earliest man-made plastics and was widely used in making jewelry from 1890 to 1930. Celluloid tends to be thin, light for its size, somewhat brittle and sensitive to heat.  Early celluloid can be extremely flammable. Many pieces of Celluloid jewelry were produced in Occupied Japan (World War II period) and are signed, “Japan.”
Bakelite:  This was developed by Dr. Leo H. Bakeland who patented his invention in 1909.  Bakelite was unlike any other plastic because once Bakelite is manufactured, heated, formed and cured it can not be melted and re-formed.  Bakelite as a jewelry material came into its own in the early 1930s. One of the reasons it became so popular was because of the Great Depression. People were often as depressed as the economy, and the public hungered for anything that was bright, cheerful, and inexpensive.  As the U.S. entered World War II, metal was mandated for use in the war effort, so wearing plastic jewelry became not only stylish but also patriotic.
Lucite:   This was an acrylic resin, first marketed by DuPont in 1937. Lucite is a thermoplastic like Bakelite but it is much cheaper and environmentally safer to produce than Bakelite. Lucite could be molded, cast, laminated, inlaid, and carved. In its original state it is clear and colorless, however, it can be tinted any color.  It was popular in jewelry from the 1940s until the early 1960s.
Hard Plastics:   Utilized mainly through the 1950s to the present, cast or molded hard plastics were and are the least expensive way of producing plastic jewelry.  Pieces made of this material almost always have telltale mold lines, and are light for their size.
  The advice on about plastic jewelry antique to vintage Information comes from jewelry experts Linda and Perry, as well as from our frequent visitors. If you'd like to add anything to this page, or have us add a topic of interest for you, email us at
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