New Items at Vintage Jewelry Online.com
This month’s dazzling collection is primarily a tribute to plastic jewelry whether it is the natural plastics, like tortoise or the synthetic beauties like bakelite and Lucite; they run the gamut from dramatic to whimsical and there are even some bakelite figural napkin rings. There are also some wonderful signed pieces like the brilliant Givenchy and the ultra sophisticated French three-strand necklace. The early periods are not forgotten though as there is an elegant velvet necklace with three enamel and paste adornments
The Jewelry Tips section continues exploring the commonly defined jewelry eras with Part 6 1920-1935 covering Plastic jewelry.
To see the newest jewelry, added within the past 30 days, click here
The new-featured highlights are found on the home page and include:
- a Stunning Carved Geometric Orange Floral Wide Clamp Bracelet #CB-00418
- a Tremendous Set of 6 Rabbit Bakelite Napkin Rings #CB-00426
- a Dramatic Givenchy Blue Glass Necklace #CS-00546
- a Sophisticated French 3-Strand 3-Color Bead Necklace #CS-00543
- an Elegant Velvet Ribbon Necklace & 3 Enamel & Paste Embellishments #VE-00556
- a 48″ Long Authentic Tortoise Link Chain Necklace #VE-00576
Jewelry Eras and the History Behind Them Part 6 Plastic Jewelry
The past few months I provided an overview of the most commonly referenced jewelry eras beginning with the Georgian period. This month we’ll follow the timeline and cover the years, 1920-1935 Part 5B. This month I will cover Art Deco with an emphasis on fine jewelry.
The majority of the reference information comes from Warman’s Jewelry, 3rd Edition by Christie Romero and the 6th Edition Answers to Questions About Old Jewelry by Jeanenne Bell both of which I highly recommend. (See Vintage Jewelry Unleashed Vol.3 – March 2006)
Commonly Defined Reference Periods
1760 – 1830 Georgian
1840 – 1860 Early Victorian
1861 – 1879 Mid Victorian
1880 – 1902 Late Victorian
1890 – 1920 Edwardian & Art Nouveau
1920 – 1935 Art Deco
1940 – 1965 Post War & Retro Modern
1920 – 1935 Plastic Jewelry — An Overview
Historical Perspective: 1920 – 1935
Do you remember when you used to go to flea markets and saw the plastic jewelry that was selling for $15.00 up to maybe $50.00 for an elaborately carved necklace or bracelet? Those days are certainly gone and plastic jewelry has hit another renaissance of collecting.
Colorful, lightweight and formerly inexpensive plastic jewelry captured the feeling and spirit of the 1920’s and 30’s when novelty jewelry first captured the hearts of the flappers and those who welcomed the whimsical and capricious.
Plastic jewelry can be categorized into two major groups, natural and synthetic. Natural plastics include amber, horn and tortoiseshell. Synthetic plastics can be further categorized into four major groups consisting of celluloid, bakelite, casein and Lucite.
Jewelry made from natural plastics was some of the earliest jewelry available dating back to ancient times in Europe. But in the second half of the 20th century many types of plastic were manufactured by different companies and given different trade names although their basic material was the same. Initially, these products were used in industrial manufacturing and many household products but because of their malleability and variety of colors, companies began producing jewelry. Over time, three generic names came to be recognized as the standard for identifying synthetic plastic jewelry… celluloid, bakelite and Lucite.
Initially, plastic jewelry was purchased by those looking for inexpensive, yet colorful jewelry that couldn’t afford precious gems for color. Over time, its appeal grew particularly when CoCo Chanel copied “real jewelry” made with plastic materials and high quality rhinestones. Its allure grew even more in the later half of the Deco era. The geometric, zigzag patterns and sleek looks blended well into the fabric of the times.
The man recognized as the father of bakelite, Leo H. Baekeland, produced a “material of a thousand uses”, in 1908. Other companies developed similar thermoset plastics and provided their own trade names, such as Catalin, Marblette, Durez and Prystal. All of these are a thermoset plastic. Thermoset plastics are liquid before they are cast and once they solidify, they remain solid. Thermoset plastics cannot be recycled. A plastic that will soften when heat is applied can be reformed are called thermoplastics. Natural plastics and cellulosics (celluloid) are thermoplastics.
Another well-known name in the world of plastic adornments is Martha Sleeper. While she was initially an actress, making costume plastic jewelry was a hobby. She was “discovered” at a cocktail party and soon after displayed her wears in a department store. Her items were so popular she hired the New England Novelty Company to mass-produce her items. Known as the “Gadget Girl”, for her fantasy and whimsical characters and everyday items, she created such well-known pieces as her black cat with the white picket fence, charm bracelets with school houses, chalk boards and even rulers dangling from them. She combined bakelite and other plastics to create these unusual pins, necklaces and bracelets. Swizzle sticks, matches and cigarettes were other regular motifs found on her necklaces, just as furry felt ears were found on her donkeys and other barn animals. All of her pieces were whimsical and off beat which is one of the reasons she is so collectible.
Bakelite colors turn over time due to usage, wear and light. Here is the list of original colors and the colors we now see in our vintage jewelry:
|Original Color||Current Vintage Color|
|Transparent Clear||Apple Juice|
Testing Plastic Jewelry
In my first issue of Vintage Jewelry Unleashed I published a resource section on how to identify plastic jewelry. Here is the link to issue #1 January 2007.
The Jewelry: 1920 – 1930 Celluloid and Cellulose Acetate
Keep in mind; the earliest plastic jewelry available was celluloid that made its appearance in 1875. But it was limited in its style and often imitated ivory, sometimes called “French ivory”, coral, amber and tortoiseshell. Its first uses were a substitute for the natural materials. But in 1902 new processes were invented which enabled rhinestones to be set into the celluloid. In 1923 a pearl essence was invented that could be applied to the cellulose acetate and enable even more versatility in jewelry design.
In 1927 a new injecting molding process was developed that made mass production possible. Lea Stein jewelry from Paris is an example of celluloid and pearlized celluloid jewelry. And we are all familiar with the fabulous celluloid and rhinestone bracelet that are so coveted. The more ornate in colors, width and design, the more desirable they are and hence the higher values assigned to them. They were originally worn in large quantities on one hand running up and down the arm.
Hair combs and hatpins were some of the earliest items made of celluloid. Pins, pendants and necklaces were also produced. Often time’s necklaces had colored celluloid chains with bakelite adornments. In addition to the celluloid and rhinestone bracelets, some were produced with a thin layer of silver overlay. Other highly collectible bracelets include the celluloid painted bracelets from Japan often seen in a floral pattern.
One of the limitations of celluloid is its flammability.
The Jewelry: 1920 – 1930 Bakelite
Bakelite is probably the most widely recognized form of plastic jewelry. Bakelite jewelry can be found in bracelets, necklaces, earrings, pins and rings. Probably the most popular are the bracelets. The styles of this jewelry can be broken into four general categories: geometric; carved; clear carved and reversed carved and figural jewelry. Within each category there are sub-styles and themes including but not limited to: heraldic jewelry; bakelite and wood; bakelite and metals; “Philadelphia” jewelry; gumdrop, bowtie and dot jewelry. There is reversed carved jewelry; pierced jewelry; over dyed items; and laminated bakelite. The world of figurals is enchanting. There are a variety of themes including, fruit; sports; school; animals, people; military and even patriotic items.
In order to see the variety of the multitude of styles you can certainly search the internet. I also highly recommend the purchase of a few good books specializing in bakelite, particularly if you think you want to begin collecting. The books are: The Bakelite Jewelry Book by Davidov and Dawes and Twentieth Century Fashionable Plastic Jewelry by Ginger Moro.
The Jewelry: 1920 – 1930 Lucite
While Plexiglas is used mostly for decorative items, Lucite, invented in 1937 by Dupont is recognized as the resin of choice for jewelry. When initially produced, Lucite is originally clear; the jewelry is often tinted in a wide range of transparent to solid colors. Molded, tinted and reversed carved pins are becoming more desirable; even the bracelets are commanding higher prices each year.
One of the more recognizable and collectible forms of Lucite are the “jelly-bellies” which have a Lucite center. These were produced in the 1940’s by Trifari and other American manufacturers. In the 1950’s pearlized bangles and ear clips, many with rhinestones hit the market and were immensely popular. You can also find the large chunky geometric rings in multitudes of colors.