What Are Lucite® Beads?

Lakshmi Sandhana

Lucite® beads are a type of plastic bead made of a material called polymethyl methacrylate, which is also known as Plexiglas. They are very popular among designers and jewelry makers and are used to make costume jewelry. Available in many different forms, some vintage Lucite® beads are even considered to be collectible items.

Lucite beads are very popular among designers and jewelry makers and are used to make costume jewelry.
Lucite beads are very popular among designers and jewelry makers and are used to make costume jewelry.

During the 1920s, designers worked with a type of plastic called bakelite to create costume jewelry. This was an opaque type of plastic that resembled yellow amber. More colorful types of plastics were developed around that time, and while they mimicked the appearance of gemstones, they were considered to be too gaudy to be tasteful. The scientists of that time began working on creating new types of plastics that had better properties than their predecessors.

The DuPont Chemical Company is credited with creating Lucite® in the 1930s, and objects made of Lucite®, such as nose cones and windshields, were used in World War II. After the war, various designers began using Lucite® as an alternative to bakelite because it came in more beautiful colors and was much clearer. DuPoint marketed Lucite® in the postwar period as the right material to fashion hairbrushes, lamps, and stylistic beads, in addition to a huge assortment of accessories.

In the early 1940s, many different types of Lucite® beads containing brilliant colors in various styles were produced. Marbelized types and beads containing stripes and jewel tones became very popular. These beads are currently prized by costume jewelry designers for their superior craftsmanship. Many jewelry makers and crafters use Lucite® beads to add a touch of pizzazz to their creations.

Popular jewelry companies that produced these beads stopped producing them in the 1970s and 1980s. Vintage Lucite® beads can therefore be quite hard to locate because the warehouses they were stored in sold them off to stores. These beads come in fantastical shapes and are very richly colored. Beads of the highest quality don't display any seams as they were lathe turned. This means that were given finishing touches on a lathe.

Generally, jewelry made of vintage Lucite® beads is much more expensive than those made of newer versions. There are many different types of new Lucite® and vintage Lucite® beads. The latter varies greatly in size, form, color, and weight. Lucite® flower beads are a classic favorite amongst many designers and feature in many beaded jewelry creations.

Moonglow Lucite® beads are prized for their pearlized style and seem to glow from within. Mosaic Lucite® beads are press molded types of beads that are still considered to be vintage. They have a light sparkle and a mottled appearance.

It is also possible to carve or etch Lucite® beads, and they can be inlaid with exquisite colors. Jewelry designers prefer to use these beads for creating chunky costume jewelry as they are quite light. While vintage Lucite® is a slightly heavier material than the present-day line of plastic beads, it is still light enough to be used extensively.

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