The story of plastics ...
Plastic jewellery is extremely popular today and has a long history with many twists and turns.
Early plastic manufactured during the second half of the 19th century contained a natural ingredient like milk, egg and wood. Bakelite was the first 100 per cent synthetic plastic.
Casein, or milk stone which was patented in the 1890’s is a semi synthetic plastic containing rennet or curdled milk. It was popular in Europe, and France in particular, where it is referred to as Galalith.
When the patent for Bakelite expired in 1928 the Catalin Corporation produced cellulose acetate which was able to be produced in many more colours.
By the late 1930’s entire jewellery cases in department stores were devoted to plastic jewellery.
Celluloid, Bakelite and lucite became modern plastics that have been used in the production of outstanding jewellery. E.g. the cellulose acetate brooches that Lea Stein has made famous. She began producing her fabulous designs in 1969 after her husband produced the cellulose acetate in new beautiful colours and patterns.
Leo Bakeland was responsible for the production of Bakelite and its ensuing popularity for jewellery particularly during the 1920’s. Beautiful heavily carved bangles were produced and worn in numbers that clanged…still highly collectable today.
Acrylic plastics include the names plexiglass, vitroflex, perspex, and lucite. The term celluloid was coined after the inventor John Wesley Hyatt came up with the perfect combination of ingredients and it was introduced to the market in 1863. By the early 1970’s metal jewellery was quite common, and often combined with wood, cork, glass and plastic beads. Amber jewellery became popular and hence much copying of vivid yellow plastic beads. Synthetics often followed the leads of natural substances and much inexpensive plastic jewellery was mass produced to rival the look of the real thing.
There is a huge market for plastic jewellery today, and in particular for the beautiful vintage plastic jewellery. It is vibrant, lightweight, and easy to wear with any outfit whether it is Bakelite or a modern day plastic. If it is the vintage styles you prefer, look out for popular makers from the past such as Trifari, Lisner, Coro, Kramer, Kenneth Jay Lane and Les Bernard, along with a myriad of unsigned beauties. With a special mention of the wonderful designs of Lea Stein, Paris.