History of Plastic

The word “plastic” derives from the Greek word plastikos, meaning to mold or to shape. Plastic is a formless substance which can be shaped by heat or by pressure.
With the beginning of the industrial era, several synthetic materials were discovered that were perfect for creating colorful, lightweight, and inexpensive jewelry. Most plastic jewelry was made by 
a combination of molding and hand-carving. In the early 20th century, plastic jewelry was made as an imitation of natural materials, such as ivory and coral, but over time bolder colors and more fantastic designs were applied.
The 1920s were characterized by delicate floral necklaces and bracelets made from celluloid.
The boom of bakelite jewelry was in the 1930s, with sculpted bracelets, art deco items with polka dots and other geometric motifs, animal pins – horses, fish, dogs, and more – and necklaces with fruits and vegetables and other daily objects, such as cigarettes, school items, sports equipment, and more.


The materials

Before synthetic materials were popular, natural materials, such as amber, horn, ivory, and tortoiseshell were widely used. Starting from ancient times, natural materials have been used to make jewelry.
In the mid-19th century, several scientific inventions and discoveries changed daily life.
Among the synthetic materials created were gutta percha, celluloid, bakelite and lucite.
Celluloid – was discovered in 1867 by Hyatt, with jewelry made since the 1920s.
Bakelite – was discovered in 1907 by Leo Baekeland, with jewelry made since the 1930s.
Galalith – was discovered in 1897, with jewelry made since the 1920s. It was only used in Europe.
Lucite – was discovered in 1901, with jewelry made since the 1930s.
Plastic – plastic jewelry production began after World War II and peaked in the 1960s.

Alta Novelty’s Moure’ Family at work

Typically, Bakelite jewelry was made in small, familiar factories where everyone had a role,  design,  production, carving and finishing.