Plastic Jewelry Fashion and History

The word plastic derives from the Greek word meaning to mold or to form. Plastics can be shaped and molded under heat and pressure. There are two kinds of plastics: natural and synthetic, thermoplastic and thermose or thermo stable plastic. Plastics have been used to make all kinds of jewelry such as necklaces, bracelets, pins, dress clips, rings, earrings, buckles, bangles and buttons.

Natural plastics evolve through either the natural biological process or are natural materials such as amber, horn, tortoiseshell, gutta-percha, and vulcanite. They have been used in jewelry for centuries. In addition, cellulose, wax, and natural rubber are considered natural polymers. Synthetic plastics are those which are manmade with chemicals such as cellulose, Bakelite, casein, and Lucite.

There are basically two types of plastic: Thermoset plastics or thermo-stable plastics which can be reheated and reshaped such as acrylic, gutta-percha, and polyethylene; and Thermoplastic a plastic that is heated, causing a chemical reaction; then shaped into a form that permanently hardens and becomes heat resistant.

In 1869, the American Wesley Hyatt discovered the first plastic known as celluloid. In the 1920s, celluloid was a popular material used to make the beautiful Art Deco jewelry designs which were often mixed with chrome and rhinestones. Celluloid was flammable and decomposed easily, especially if it was exposed to sunlight.

During World War II, due to the scarceness of materials, Bakelite and other plastics were very popular in jewelry making. In 1907, a Belgian scientist, Dr. Leo Hendrik Baekeland had invented the first truly synthetic and stable resin popularly known as “Bakelite”. Dr. Baekeland working as an independent chemist discovered the compound of carbolic acid and formaldehyde, and found it did not melt.

Bakelite was the first synthetic plastic invented. Dr. Baekeland trademarked it “Bakelite” as well as two other variations, “catalin” and “marblette” – which today are also referred to as Bakelite. Bakelite was cast, carved, or laminated into floral and geometric designs and whimsical figural shaped like animals, fruits, hats, fish, and people. It was often ornamented with rhinestones, metal, wood, and Lucite. By the end of World War II, new technologies for other plastics had been developed. These new products were molded plastics such as Lucite, Fiberglass, Vinyl, and Acrylic.

Throughout the years, plastic jewelry has increased in popularity. Plastic resins are the ones most commonly used in making jewelry, costume jewelry, and other accessories. Many well-known designers of today work with plastics or incorporate plastic elements into their jewelry. Prices of plastic jewelry differ. Handmade modern pieces can be expensive due to the amount of work they generate and their time of production.

Oversized plastic jewelry will take a variety of different forms this season, such as necklaces and bangles. Dramatic bangles or a collection of multiple thin bangles worn together were seen in numerous runways in a variety of different forms but with a joined overall theme.

When buying plastic jewelry do not expose it to spray perfumes, deodorants or hairsprays. Do not store it in direct sunlight or heat, but in a cool, dry and dust free place. Also do not use ammonia or ammonia-based cleaners on Lucite. Store your pieces separately to avoid scratching, rubbing or being damaged by other pieces. To polish your plastic jewelry use Simichrome Polish and a soft cloth and do not over rub.

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