Consider Bakelite. Jewelry cast in the iconic synthetic resin, which was invented in 1907 by Belgian-born American chemist Leo Hendrik Baekeland, represented the pinnacle of high fashion in the 1920s. Over a century later, pristine vintage Bakelite baubles sell for roughly the same price as genuine gold jewelry.
It’s been years since synthetic materials have swung into fine jewelry design in any notable way, but Bakelite is proof that even diamonds and pearls can be outshined by a wholly unnatural element—at least momentarily.
And such a moment may be near again. Our inboxes and Instagram feeds are suddenly overflowing with jewelry made from colorful acetate, Lucite, and other mold-ready materials. The trend feels timely—an answer to our collective desire for fun and frivolity in the anxiety-riddled COVID-19 era. It’s not every season that electric pink acetate earrings read as the height of chic. But here we are!
Jewelry brand Alison Lou, led by founder Alison Chemla, could be said to have set the current wave of fantastic plastics in motion all the way back in 2018, when it launched its Loucite collection of pastel-hued lucite hoop earrings. Three years later, the kicky style still sells out on the brand’s site, as do new acetate hair clips the company dropped this summer.
Now it’s joined in by a stable of brands—established, but more often new—that are innovating with plastics. Jewelry retailers looking to add color, and lower price points, to their cases, may want to take note of these: