Lucite jewelry is a type of accessory that rocked the ‘50s, and while the material is no longer as common today, it is still the perfect choice for those who want a colorful vintage touch to their clothing. Many people would wear Lucite jewelry to express their personality, due to the wide array of models available.
With that in mind, what is Lucite – and how did it end up being used in jewelry in the first place? This article should give you some insight into a type of jewelry that people find fresh and fashionable to this day.
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WHAT IS LUCITE JEWELRY?
Lucite jewelry is made mostly from acrylic. This kind of accessory can take many shapes and colors. For example, it can be completely transparent, like glass, or it might be tinted in different shades. It can be semi-transparent, or completely opaque, depending on what the designer had in mind.
Crown Trifari Lucite Brooches with different transparency and colors.
Coro confetti necklace, earrings, and bracelet set made of lucite
Lucite is often very affordable, and unless it’s part of a highly detailed vintage piece, it does not fetch too much on the market. With that in mind, Lucite is quite a versatile resin that can be made in a variety of ways.
Many jewelers would actually shape the Lucite so that it looks like gemstones. The right polishing and shaping could even make it look like a diamond. Also, the proper amount of emerald color can get you a nice emerald stone.
CORO Confetti Lucite Square Necklace and Earrings Set – 1950s
Vintage Coro Pink Opalescent Glass & Blue Lucite Necklace and Earrings – 1950s
You can find some vintage Lucite jewelry pieces encased in gold or silver, taking the look of a much more valuable piece. Famous brands such as Monet or Trifari created various Lucite pieces, the most notable being the Trifari animal brooch collection, “Jelly Belly.”
Jelly Belly Brooches designed by Alfred Philippe – Crown Trifari
Jewelers still make Lucite jewelry to this day. However, collectors are mostly after vintage Lucite pieces, as they tend to have a slightly different design. They do not have the “contemporary edge” that most recent pieces have.
Lucite jewelry today
HISTORY OF LUCITE JEWELRY
At first, when Lucite first came to be, it had nothing to do with jewelry. In fact, it was created to be of use in the war for submarine periscopes, plane windshields, and military aircraft.
With that in mind, once the war was over, they didn’t need the remaining Lucite stocks anymore, so they had to repurpose them. In the end, Lucite was used in the fashion industry, with designers creating everything from custom jewelry to handbags with clear, Lucite handles.
Vintage lucite purse, 1950s
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Before Lucite made its way into fashion, women would mainly wear jewelry made out of stones and precious metals. Wearing those types of jewels would categorize you as someone from the upper class – and even if you weren’t particularly rich, it would make it seem that way to those around you.
With that in mind, in the 1950s, people no longer had the money to spend on expensive jewelry. The Great Depression and World War II took their toll, and people had to find less expensive materials to make jewelry from. Lucite was a great alternative, and from that point forward, the mid-century jewelers started getting more and more creative with the material.
Somewhere in the mid-1940s, Lucite featuring a moonstone-like glow became quite a popular choice. Not only would it be used in vintage Lucite brooches, but it would also make some realistic-looking pearl necklaces. From an average distance, it would be very difficult to tell Lucite jewelry from the real deal.
Trifari brooch and earrings with faux moonstones made from lucite
Lucite felt avant-garde and beautiful, without actually requiring you to spend loads of money on it. This is why so many people would use it to add some sparkle to their outfits.
Rare Signed Trifari Blue Faux Moonstone Sparrow Set designed by Alfred Philippe
HOW TO TELL BETWEEN VINTAGE LUCITE AND MODERN JEWELRY
As a collector, while the modern pieces of Lucite jewelry might somehow appeal to you, they do not compare with the charm of the vintage kind. While it might seem like modern Lucite should be the same as the vintage type, there are some differences.
Lucite jewelry was made differently in the 50s than it is done today. Back then, it would feature more acrylic and resin, whereas nowadays the pieces are mostly plastic. The quality between vintage and modern can differ a lot, which is why you need to make a careful choice.
Depending on the case, it might take a sharp eye to determine which is which. Here are just a few tips that might help you narrow things down.
1. It Reflects the Time Style
Usually, you can tell at a glance whether a piece of jewelry is modern or vintage – mainly because of the way it looks. The design will speak to you. Plus, reflecting on the timeframe, you will also buy the jewelry from different places.
Vintage flower brooch made of lucite and rhinestones
For instance, if you buy it from a quick fashion store, you can be sure it’s a modern piece. However, if you find it at an antique shop, it’s most likely vintage.
2. It’s Opaque, Translucent or Clear
Most modern Lucite pieces of jewelry will have an architectural style along with a solid color. On the other hand, most vintage pieces of jewelry will have a more translucent, clear, or opaque finish. Sometimes, it might be difficult to tell the difference just by analyzing the piece yourself, which is why you may want to purchase from a seller that you trust.
Trifari Blue Moonstone, Ruby Cabochons, and Enamelled Leaves Bracelet designed by Alfred Philippe
Trifari Blue and White Moonstone Floral Pin designed by Alfred Philippe
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3. It’s Heavier and Clearer than Plastic
Lucite may be advertised as a “kind of plastic,” but in truth, it is different. Lucite is similar to both plastic and glass, which is why it is called “acrylic glass.” It’s usually used in creating a resistant kind of glass, which makes it a heavier and clearer choice as compared to your regular plastic.
Vintage necklace made of clear lucite
When you shop for vintage Lucite jewelry, make sure to weigh the piece in your hand and check its clarity. Also, if it’s Lucite, it will not bend – something that tends to happen with plastic. Even if it is a vintage piece, it should not have any cracks either.
4. It’s Scent-Free in Hot Water
A hot water test will tell you whether it’s vintage Lucite or a plastic modern type. Take a bowl of hot water and dip the piece of jewelry in there for 30 seconds. While plastic will release a vinegar-like smell, vintage will not release any. Don’t use boiling water, as it might damage the Lucite.
HOW TO CARE FOR LUCITE JEWELRY
Unlike diamonds or other types of expensive jewelry that do not need too much effort, Lucite might require you to occasionally go the extra mile. Since the material is not the toughest, not only do you need to be careful how you handle it, but you also must keep a close eye on how you clean it.
GENERAL MAINTENANCE TIPS
- Store properly:
The first thing that you should do is treat your piece of jewelry with as much care as you can. Lucite is indeed durable – but it’s by no means indestructible. Ideally, you may want to store the piece of jewelry in its own box when it’s not in use. Also, it goes without saying that you should not pull or abuse your jewelry.
When you are putting on a handbag or doing activities that can put pressure on the piece, you might actually damage it. If the piece was made properly and with skill, you probably shouldn’t be afraid of such situations – but you might want to be careful, nonetheless.
- Avoid exposure to moisture, liquid cosmetics, and water
As much as possible, you should avoid getting the piece wet. While there’s a low chance of something happening to the Lucite, it may cause the plated metal that frames it to tarnish. While it may be ok with the occasional thunderstorm, don’t make a habit of swimming with the jewelry on.
Last but not least, be very careful when you apply sunscreen, perfume, moisturizer, or insect repellant. Some ingredients in these products may react with the Lucite, causing it to change its texture or get discolored.
Cleaning Lucite is actually quite easy, as long as you take the right precautions. Use a lint-free soft cloth, a gentle cleanser, and lukewarm water. Don’t use water that is too hot, because Lucite can get damaged under extreme temperatures.
That being said, since Lucite does not have an odor, you won’t feel any smells when you place it in hot water. If the water is bearable for you, it is likely bearable for the jewel as well.
If your piece of Lucite jewelry also has added rhinestones, be sure to treat the piece with care. If you scrub too hard or completely submerge it in water, you may just end up losing the pieces altogether.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Even though it’s vintage, Lucite jewelry still has a fresh design and can make anyone feel special while wearing it. Just make sure that you buy it from a trusted seller and that you maintain the piece correctly.