12/4/05 | Vintage Lucite Beads
We’ve been stocking up on various supplies for an upcoming jewelry and craft show and the other day we came across these amazing vintage lucite beads in shades of orange and red. The colors of these beads are super vibrant which is something that we look for occasionally to give some extra splash to designs.
Along with orange and red, they had a whole assortment of similarly vibrant different colors: blue, green, purple, pink, yellow, brown, and black/white. What is particularly cool about the lucite pieces is that many of them were chunkier pieces which is also something that we haven’t used much in designs up to this point. Some of the pieces remind me of old fashioned striped licorice or hard candy.
Lucite was actually popularized by DuPont in the 1930s as an alternative to the more expensive (and now famous) plastic called Bakelite. Looking on Wikipedia, the chemical name for the tradename Lucite is Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) . It started off being used for costume jewelry and in the 1950s became extremely popular in something called Jelly Belly Jewelry (I’m not familiar with this type of vintage jewelry). Their popularity continues to this day.
One thing about Lucite is that although it is more substantial than other plastic beads, it is surprisingly light in general. I just thought it might feel heavier. Therefore, even though vintage lucite is often cut in extremely chunky pieces they won’t weigh down a necklace made entirely of it. I didn’t know this but apparently most of the lucite beads are carved out of tubes of lucite as opposed to pressed in a mold like many other plastics or glass. This is actually a good thing because then there are no seams in the beads!
Because many of the lucite beads being sold today are actually vintage beads that aren’t currently being manufactured, they can be a bit difficult to find sometimes. Often, a new company will buy up the older jewelry stock from warehouses of companies that used to produce beads and findings, and the vintage lucite beads are included in the haul.
I believe they DO make reproductions of vintage beads, but you can usually tell the difference in the quality and workmanship. Another thing about vintage lucite is that it isn’t exactly cheap. This might be a reason to try to find reproductions of the styles of lucite beads that you like. Though, I tend to see more reproductions of vintage glass than vintage plastic at bead stores.
One of the best places you can find vintage beads are at jewelry trunk shows. Often, when a bead store has a sale (especially during the holidays) they’ll also get a representative from a small company or even an individual to set up a trunk show at a separate table or room at the store. The good thing about these trunk shows is that often the store sale prices extend to the trunk show items themselves which can help defray that extra cost of buying vintage beads.