Wednesday, November 24, 2010

More Than You Ever Wanted To Know About Lucite

This starts out very technical. bear with me.  I get to art soon.  Really!

Depending on your sources, lucite was invented in 1928 or 1931. It may, or may not, have been developed by DuPont. It may or may not have been brought to market by Rohm and Hass Company prior to being marketed by DuPont. Certainly DuPont produced it, but the German scientist Otto Rohm holds the patent dated 1931. Technically, it is a "synthetic polymer of methyl methacrylate"  or PMMA.  It's been sold under a variety of brand-names, the first being Plexiglass. The most common other names for it are "acrylic glass", or just "acrylic" and "lucite". Acrylic can also refer to other polymers or co-polymers containing polyacrylonitril (yeah right). 
 It generally takes 2 ounces of petroleum to create one once of lucite. I got most of that from Wikipedia, and if you think I understand what all those technical terms mean, you don't know me very well. 

Like bakelite, it was stronger than it predecessors, but unlike bakelite, they keep on making it today*. Also like bakelite, it tends to be brittle. Unlike bakelite, there is something they can do with rubber that helps with the brittleness.  Don't ask me to explain what it is they do.  I only know they can do it. 

*Technically, there are people making bakelite today, but they do so only to cash in on Bakelite's rarity. There is no commercial application for bakelite. There are only collectors. There are commercial applications for Lucite, and it remains in widespread production.  

In the 30's (1936 to be exact) the first acrylic safety glass was produced. During The War, it was used primarily for submarine periscopes, windshields, canopies, and gun turretts. 

Lucite lends itself to all general molding procedures. This includes injection molding, extrusion and compression molding. The highest quality lucite sheets are produced by cell caasting in which case the polymerization and molding steps occur concurrently.  It can be joined using cyanoacrylate cement, or superglue; also by heating; and also by using solvents such as di- or trichloromethane to dissolve the plastic at the joint which then fuses and sets, forming an almost invisible weld. Scratches on the surface can easily be removed by polishing it, or by heating it and doing something I completely fail to understand.

Sheets of lucite lend themselves well to lazer cutting.  I once got what promised to be some really smashing lucite hoop earrings.  Alas,  they had been cut from a thin sheet of lucite and the "artisan" - and I'm using the term loosely - just cut out the circles.  She didn't even bother to smooth out the edges. To say the least I was disappointed, though they look pretty good unless you're giving them the close up inspection. 

Methyl methacrylate "synthetic resin" for casting (simply the bulk liquid chemical) may be used in conjunction with a polymerization catalyst such as MEKP, to produce hardened transparent PMMA in any shape, from a mold.  What this means is,  that you can take stuff, and put it in a block of lucite, like so:

Jewelry makers have done all sorts of things with that, like make pendants out of bugs suspended in lucite.  None of this is my cup of tea, but other people must go for it because they keep doing it. 

Since the 1960's furniture makers have used lucite or acrylic to give their furniture a modern or "space age" feel, as shown below:

This chair is available at Muniz, Inc. at an unspecified price.  I am mad for it.  If it weren't high maintenance (and with the scratch buffing, I'm afraid the furniture is high maintenance),  I would furnish my house in lucite and mirrors.

In the 50's and the 60's, lucite became a medium for Mid Century Art Moderne sculpture: 

This Sculpture is available at Muniz, Inc. at an unspecified price.  They have lots of lucite  sculpture, and generally lots of cool lucite stuff. 

This female form sculpture is available at Etsy from SamuelsGallery for $4,200.00.  I must admit to being a bit stunned by the price,  but perhaps the artist is well known and has throngs of adoring fans?  

In the 50's and 60's, lucite became a medium of Jewelry, and Ann Primrose was it's master. I have presented three examples of her work below, and I covet them all! 

The twisted bangle bracelet above is available at Etsy from AnnPrimrose for $19.99 or on eBay  from ann_primrose for an opening bid of $6.99.  Given that vagaries of eBay bidding,  I don't know which one will end up being the bargain. But my! Aren't they divine?  I believe they are vintage old stock, but I could be wrong about that.  They have not yellowed with age, so they've been protected from cigarette smoke, and are free of scratches. If "old" is important to you, instead of just "cool",  I would suggest writing Ann and asking.

The edged bangle above is offered on eBay by ann_primrose for an opening bid of $7.99 or on Etsy from AnnPrimrose for $19.99.  Once again, I don't know which will end up being the bargain.  I believe these too are old stock and are in excellent condition.

The squared bangle above is offered by ann_primrose on Ebay for an opening bid of $7.99, or by AnnPrimrose of Etsy for $19.99.  At the risk of being repetitive, I don't know which of these will be the bargain either. And again, I believe these are old stock and are in excellent condition.

Ms. Primrose has also done a lot of work in colored lucite, both opaque and translucent.  This isn't my thing,  but see her collections on eBay and Etsy.  

After the mid 70's lucite jewelry languished for a while. Then came Pat Von Muselan who  brought it back to life with her wonderful, voluptuous work. Her jewelry is organic, dynamic and sculptural. One wants to touch it. It moves, it dances, it has life. It was coveted and covered by no less than Vogue Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Harper's Bazaar, Elle, Town and Country, and Architectural Digest

The bangle above is by Patricia Von Muselin, and is available on Etsy from Wendy Gell for $299.00  The next four works which follow are not for sale.

The works above, while not for sale, can be found on Ms. Muselin's website: Patrican von Muselin.  I could not find any of her work on eBay at present.  I must say this though,  now that is a lucite ring.

This Musulin Lucite Cuff above is available at Vivre for $650.00

The lucite dome ring by Ms. Musulin is available at Vivre for $225.00.  I can't help but mention that I've seen similar lucite dome rings on eBay in the under $10.00 range.

Ms. Muselan's work has been on the runway with both American and European designers such as Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, Donna Karan, Bill Blass, Carolina Herrera and Geoffrey Beene. Her jewelry has also been featured in the advertisements of such products as Victoria's Secret, Absolute Vodka, Gap, Kohler, and Cover Girl.  Her work graces the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the Smithsonian Institute.  

In the late 70's and 1980's, Judith Hendler began her ground breaking work in lucite.  Ms. Hendler, almost by chance, got her break supplying jewelry for Dynasty.  This work led to commission for Knots Landing, Days of Our Lives, and Hotel.  Her work has been collected by numerous celebrities, and has been seen in Elle, Harper's Bazaar, and - of course, Vogue.  Second Hand News featured a pair of her earrings in a previous issue. She's also on Facebook and has been kind enough to "friend" me.   She's even been kind enough to answer my fawning fannish messages, which I consider to be excessively kind.

A 70's Judith Hendler  - a rare find on eBay - for a starting bid of $225.00.  I love the Art Deco feel of this piece.

This wedge shaped frosted lucite piece was found on Ruby Lane for $675.00.  Repeat my feeling about Art Deco and Ms. Hendler's work.

Not for sale, these pieces of the "champagne" collection are so called due to the bubbles in the lucite. I just adore them.   

This example from her private collection makes the reasons for her success as clear as the lucite.

One of her many colored creations,  this amethyst necklace and earrings set is for sale at Midnight Glamour for $800.00.  There are lots of colored lucite pieces in lots of colors, so if that's your thing,  be sure and look for them.

But soon it wasn't just the artisan jewelry that was going for high prices.  It was the regular clear lucite.  Neiman Marcus began to sell it. 

The very same necklace above, the necklace I bought at eBay for $9.99, was available from Neiman's for $155.00. I wrote the seller on eBay, just because I thought they'd get a kick out of it. They wrote me back saying the Neiman's piece was crystal, then they wrote me back saying they didn't understand.  Their English is limited,  so I wrote them back and said as simply as possible it was easy to understand:  greed and profit.

This lucite bracelet was available from Lori's Shoes for $18.00 is an exact copy of an Alexis Bittar piece on sale Bergdorf-Goodman's for $495.00 (The Stir: Right This Moment: Lucite).  Personally, I'll take the one from Lori's Shoes.

Then Saks Fifth Avenue followed suit in carrying unreasonably expensive lucite. as did Macy's, Nordstroms, and a number of other high end stores. Lucite began to be seen on runways in Fashion week. From fashion week to fashion ads, below is Cindy Crawford, with her arm veritably dripping in lucite from the April Issue of Harper's Bazaar.

And from Harper's Bazaar to Marie Claire;  and from Marie Claire to Vogue.

And thus Lucite Chic became a phenomenon.

"Lucite jewelry can be found in a range of price points for every budget. Its popularity began to build last year, but has exploded this spring and will carry into summer and possibly beyond" (Pittsburgh Tribune) 

“Lucite pieces can be incorporated into day and evening wear. This is jewelry women can wear all year long because of its versatility." (Greg Andrews of Nordstroms)

“Because it goes with pretty much everything, you don't have to worry about trying to match your jewelry to your outfit” (Hedy Gold, Self Magazine)

Well, it had to happen. I'm astonished at myself for not seeing it coming. Prices have  begun to rise.  Not just at the high end stores.  Prices are rising at eBay. At Etsy. And at Ruby Lane and Ruby Plaza (which may or may not be the same thing).  I found no Lucite on Sense of Fashion, but there are lucite beads available on ArtFire, and I'm happy to report they remain reasonably priced.  So this, dear kittens, is the real reason for this post.  Lucite is going up. The time to buy is now!  

If you're buying designer, it may very well be worth the price.  But if your buying it - like me, because you think it's a kick and you like it -  check all* the lucite before you buy.  You could save yourself a couple of hundred dollars and still look chic.

*Rula77 is the go-to place for lucite jewelry.  They have great stuff, a wide selection, and they ship promptly.  I urge you not to buy any lucite without seeing if they carry it first.  English is not their primary language, so please be patient with them should you need to correspond with them.  

Along the same lines,  the release of the movie Burlesque is likely to drive up - at least for a while - the price of vintage "peek-a-boo" lingerie.  If this is your thing,  buy it now!  There isn't a moment to spare.

And with that kittens,  I bid you Good Shopping.

I've been on vacation.  I hope to have a real issue of the blog out soon!

Second Hand Roze