What is vintage lucite?

Written by kate simmons
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What is vintage lucite?
Acrylic accessories add a crystal clear shine to home decor. (crystal image by jimcox40 from Fotolia.com)

Lucite, also known as acrylic, Plexiglas and Perspex, is the synthetic polymer polymethyl methacrylate. In essence, it is plastic, but with advantages in appearance and strength. Some may use the phrase "vintage Lucite" to refer to any clear plastic substance that is not new. However, a closer look at Lucite and the nature of vintage items provides clarity on what truly gives this collectable material its flair.

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History

Lucite is the brand name of the polymer developed by the DuPont Chemical Company in the 1930s. Rohm & Haas also introduced their version of the substance and called it Plexiglas, a term with which consumers have long been familiar. Because of the variety of names under which the polymer is marketed, only polymethyl methacrylate items made by DuPont can legally be referred to as "Lucite."

Used in the construction of war materials in the 1940s, Lucite was then discovered by the fashion industry, which utilised its eye-catching properties in the creation of jewellery and handbags. Lucite accessories flourished in the 1950s and 1960s, and vintage Lucite pieces from the 1970s are equally collectable. Therefore, these time periods are often encompassed in the term "vintage" when applied to Lucite, along with the 1940s and the 1980s.

Revival

Designer Alexis Bittar set a Lucite comeback in motion when he began selling hand-carved Lucite jewellery in New York in the early 1990s. While this revival was not instant, other designers eventually took note in a big way. Lucite made a strong showing in the spring/summer 2010 collections of such design powerhouses as Michael Kors and Prada.

Uses

Lucite jewellery, purses and shoes add a crystalline look to fashion ensembles. Lucite furniture and accents, from chairs to coffee tables to chess sets, are sold as home decor items. In addition to appearing in furniture and accessories, Lucite has many industrial uses, including vehicle windshields and automobile light covers.

Features

Naturally clear and transparent, Lucite can be tinted and made opaque when joined with other materials. While Lucite boasts the icy look of glass, the two materials are distinctly different. Lucite does not shatter, there is no green edge, and it is much clearer than glass, providing a clean look that many find desirable.

Jewellery label Circa Sixty Three compares the difference between Lucite and standard plastic to the difference between glass and crystal, noting Lucite's more durable nature over plastic, as well as its absence of seams due to the fact that it's carved rather than moulded.

Appeal

Vintage Lucite pieces evoke an era of the past and show a level of detail and craftsmanship that draws increasingly large numbers of collectors. Vintage Lucite furniture enthusiasts admire its clear and light appearance, which lends a polished and clean look to an interior, a quality that is useful in smaller rooms where the illusion of space is a priority.

Vintage Lucite jewellery can be either clear or tinted. Many Lucite jewellery items of the past feature bright colours and eye-catching stripes. Sturdy and glamorous, clear Lucite pieces have a strong yet neutral appearance, giving them the ability to mesh with a variety of ensembles. The popularity of vintage Lucite has shown that this plastic of the past and present has timeless appeal.

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