Lucite, a form of acrylic resin, appeared in many colors and styles of jewelry during the 1940s and 1950s. It comes in virtually every hue, in both transparent and solid forms. Similar to Bakelite, another popular mid-century resin material, it's become collectible in recent years. Lucite is still used today in the production of some jewelry. However, pieces purchased at antique stores or estate sales are usually in vintage styles and easy to identify when compared with modern jewelry styles.
Contemporary vs. Vintage
Study the style of the jewelry. Though Lucite jewelry comes in a variety of styles and every color, some vintage styles are more popular. Examples include bangle bracelets, flat, button-shaped earrings and beaded necklaces.
Look for distinct features in the piece of jewelry. Vintage Lucite comes in some very singular styles that make it look different than most contemporary Lucite. If it is made of many small pieces set in metal, it could be molded Lucite and, if so, it's likely a vintage piece. Many pieces of vintage Lucite were created in this distinct, easily identifiable style.
Look at the color of the jewelry. Lucite comes in a number of colors, including opaque, clear and semi-transparent. Contemporary Lucite usually comes in solid colors. It is much harder to tell the origin of a solid color Lucite. If the jewelry is a solid color but in a vintage style, then it's probably an older piece.
Check if it has a "glow." If the piece of jewelry in question seems to glow, it is probably vintage "moonglow" Lucite. Moonglow Lucite comes in a variety of colors, but always has the distinctive shine.
See if If the piece has glitter trapped inside the plastic. If so, it is probably "confetti" Lucite. Confetti Lucite can be a stand-alone piece, such as a solid bangle bracelet, or it can be inlaid in a metal frame or part of a pin or brooch.
Look for contrasting colored bits spread throughout an opaque design. "Granite" Lucite has the look of granite but in a wide variety of colors and color combinations. This style is a clear identifier of a vintage piece.
If the piece has a clear outer color and an embedded object in the center--a flower, a seashell, or a gem, for example--then it's a vintage piece known as an "embedded" Lucite item. This style often comes as earrings or pins.
If the piece of jewelry in question was purchased at an antique shop, consider talking to the dealer who bought it originally. Many times antique dealers can identify vintage plastics by sight alone.
If the piece was purchased in a big box store or a chain store selling contemporary jewelry, it is likely a contemporary piece of Lucite and not vintage.
Sometimes Lucite is confused with other types of vintage plastic. To find out if the plastic is in fact Lucite, a simple test is required. Take the piece of jewelry believed to be Lucite, and dip it into hot, but not boiling, water. Continue to hold the piece of jewelry in the hot water for 30 seconds. Remove the piece of jewelry from the water and smell it. If it is Lucite, it will have no discernable scent. Other vintage plastics have a distinct odor: Bakelite will smell highly acidic. Celluloid, another early variation of plastic, will smell like vinegar.
Never test vintage plastic jewelry using a flame or boiling hot water. This will damage the piece.
Colette Stichler is a writer and public relations professional living in eastern Nebraska. She enjoys covering arts and culture, fashion and travel.