Plastic Jewelry

What makes some plastic jewelry so valuable and why?
October 28, 2006

The last Chicago Antique Market of the year will offer shoppers a chance to meet one of the foremost experts on vintage costume jewelry, Susan Klein. serving as senior manager of client accounts at Sotheby's Chicago, Klein ironically developed a passion for antique plastic jewelry. Once used for industrial purposes in the mid-century, the acrylic plastic makes for beautiful jewelry worth hundreds of dollars in today's market.

A great twist in Susan's story is that she worked in Sotheby's Chicago for years, but was always wearing her plastic jewelry as opposed to the real diamonds that Sotheby's sells. So many people admired her plastic jewelry and asked about where she found it that she decided to write a book.

Some pointers and info she offers:


SMELL (Gently rub the piece to emit the various plastic smells)

Bakelite=formaldehyde smell (Black Bakelite will have no smell)
Celluloid=camphor smell
Cellulose acetate=vinegar smell
Acrylic (lucite)=No smell
Polystyrene=no smell
Galalith=burned milk
Epoxy=no smell

SIGHT

Acrylic (lucite) is generally thick
Cellulose acetate and celluloid are generally thin
Polystyrene has dull or overpainted colors and has obvious molding marks
Acrylic (lucite) is colorfast/the colors stay true
Epoxies turn yellow

SOUND (Some dealers may not appreciate your tapping the jewelry)

Tapping together two pieces of acrylic (lucite) jewelry will produce a high pitched sound
Tapping together two pieces of bakelite jewelry will produce a dull sound

TOUCH

Glass feels cold to the touch (hold it up to your cheek)
Plastic feels warm to the touch (hold it up to your cheek)

OTHER METHODS OF IDENTIFICATION, COLLECTION and PROPER STORAGE OF MID-CENTURY PLASTIC JEWELRY:

Look for signs of obvious wear to determine if the piece is Authentic (ie. wear to clasp, underside of piece)

When testing at home, test with a small amount of wenol metal polish, metal glo or formula 409 on a cotton swab. Test in an inconspicuous place. Wenol will have an orange residue and metal glo and Formula 409 will have a yellow residue if item is bakelite. Black bakelite won't test.

Join a collecting club, like the VFCJ (Vintage Fashion and Costume Jewelry) club in Chicago to learn more about collecting plastic jewelry and the best resources for collecting. We meet bi-monthly. People can contact me at plastarama@yahoo.com for more information.

Buy imperfect pieces for parts. If you find a twin of a piece you love that is not in the best shape, but at the right price, buy it. Then if your perfect piece loses a part, it can be repaired.

Keep hand lotion, nail polish remover, hairspray and perfume away from your plastic jewelry! Store out of direct sunlight and not in airtight containers.

Look beyond bakelite. The mid-century plastics are still relatively modestly priced and are not yet being copied.

Besides flea markets and antique stores, your mother and grandmother's jewelry boxes may be the best place to start your collection (just ask them first!)

Read up on your collection! There are many good books on costume jewelry and resources on the internet. my book is called "mid-century plastic jewelry". It is published by Schiffer Books and is available at your local book store. I will be signing copies of my book this Sunday from 11am-12pm at the Chicago Antique Market. The book costs $30.


Check out some wonderful vintage plastic jewelry from VFG Sellers in the VFG Picks in the right sidebar like this cool chunky plastic ring for Penny from Another Time.