Just One Word. Plastics.

The world of plastic jewelry had never been very exciting to me, other than playing with pop-it beads at my grandmother’s house, until I discovered Bakelite and celluloid jewelry. It’s very different from my usual Mexican silver and vintage rhinestone jewelery, but I like the colors and textures. I think my appreciation may have started when we bought the retro resin table shown below as background in the first photo. Maybe Mr. Maguire got it right.

Celluloid and plastic jabot pins and hair pins

Celluloid was invented by John Hyatt in about 1869 and manufactured starting in 1873. It made a nice substitute for ivory and tortoiseshell. Hyatt figured out how to fabricate the material in a strip format for movie film, and by the year 1900, movie film was a major market for celluloid. One of its chemical properties is that it’s very flammable.

Bakelite bangles and hat pins

Bakelite bangles and hat pins

A chemist named Leo Hendrik Baekelund, a Belgian-born American living in New York state invented Bakelite and after fiddling with the composition for some time, publicly announced his discovery in 1909. It was originally used for electrical and mechanical parts, but became popular in the 1920s for use in consumer goods, including jewelry. It was harder than celluloid, and wasn’t flammable.

Moonstone Lucite bracelet, earrings, and brooch

According to CarrotBox, a fun site devoted to plastic rings, Lucite was invented in 1931 by chemists at DuPont. It was water resistant, low density yet stronger than previous plastics. I love the iridescence of the moonstone set.

Great beige plastic French cuff

Close up of unknown plastic cuff

I have no idea what kind of plastic this bracelet is. It’s thinner than Bakelite, and a bit more flexible. I suppose it could be celluloid but the colored bits inside it make me think not. If you know what it might be, I’d love to hear from you!

I based most of my information on the History of Plastics page from the Packaging Today website. There’s lots more science and history of plastics there. 

Bonus: Here’s a YouTube link to Simon & Garfunkel’s Mrs. Robinson from The Graduate. I listened to that soundtrack dozens of times when I was a teenager.


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