Greater access to laser cutting machines has given rise to popularity in acrylic jewelry. Both artists and high fashion are making a foray into this relatively new combination of acrylic materials and laser-cutting technology. Various colors, thicknesses and etched designs can be combined in a endless number of ways to produce cute and interesting pieces of jewelry that all have a special handmade touch to them. In this post I delve a bit in to the history of plastic jewelry and finish with my favorite online sources for the best acrylic laser-cut jewelry out there!
Acrylic jewelry follows in the footsteps of a somewhat glorious history of plastic jewelry. Plastic jewelry has always had an air of novelty. Early plastic pieces were often figurative and oversized, and there was not a little mystique given their new-fangled material. Customers were definitely intrigued by new and unusual materials, and given that these materials were inexpensive, that made them popular, too! Here are a few of the plastic predecessors to our current acrylic jewelry obsession:
In the mid 1800’s celluloid jewelry became possible. It was discovered that plant cellulose and camphor can be combined to make a semi-hard plastic. Most pieces were pressed into molds or extruded, and then the details were painted on the surface by hand. Celluloid could also be made to approximate natural (and more expensive) materials such as tortoise shell and horn. Bracelets, brooches, and charms made out of celluloid were most often found at five and dime stores and given to sweethearts, moms, and kiddos.
Bakelite (my personal favorite) came on the scene in the early 1900s. By the 1940s, many industries were utilizing this new plastic both for its aesthetic appeal and heat insulating qualities. Bakelite was used for knobs, handles, and other decorative features on many electronics and household gadgets. It was much cheaper than any natural material, and had a nice, solid feel and appearance. Bakelite could be molded, extruded and colored in a variety of ways, making it ideal for all sorts of applications. But, my favorite application is jewelry! Many vintage collectors covet the gorgeous out-of-this-world designs of bakelite jewelry from the 1940s. For instance, check out this wild set inspired by the great Josephine Baker:
Lucite, and acrylic polymer, came on the market for making jewelry by the 1950s. However, I always think of those amazing 1970s clear or frosted chunky bangles. Because of its transparent property, lucite jewelry often included glitter or small objects suspended inside the piece. This perhaps encouraged the overall design and shape of lucite jewelry to become somewhat standardized, but expanded the possible decorative elements that could be utilized within a piece of jewelry. Lucite is still used today for jewelry and, like the previous plastics, is typically extruded or poured into a mold.
OK – so now that we’ve covered some of the background of plastics in jewelry (who knew there was so much to talk about??), let’s move onto the main attraction: Laser-cut Acrylic Jewelry!
So while laser-cut jewelry follows in the footsteps of celluloid, bakelite, lucite and others, the genre defines itself independently in its creation and assembly. Cut from sheets of acrylic (with a laser!), this jewelry is typically presented as a 2-dimensional design that consists of flat layers. Additionally, many pieces are etched, giving them added detail not utilized very often in earlier types plastic jewelry.
I love acrylic jewelry because you get all the glitz and glam without breaking the bank. I tend to look for statement pieces that are unique and fun, but there are also many office-worthy pieces out there.
Here are a few of my favorite independent places to source creative and inspired laser-cut acrylic jewelry:
I Love Crafty by Laura Hunter in the UK
Laura brainstorms amazing collections and supports her new ventures through her Patreon page, which gives subscribers early access to new collections and discount codes. Her occasional collaborations with Pony People are always adorable. I Love Crafty is your go-to spot for a cute piece with delightful hand-detailing.
Tatty Devine in London
Started in 1999 by two art school graduates, they are synonymous with the seemingly ever-present acrylic name necklace, but they do so much more. Tatty Devine’s brick and mortar location hosts workshops for local DIYers, and they often collaborate with nonprofit organizations to stylishly promote worthwhile causes. Their collaboration with the Fawcett Society, an organization promoting women’s rights, is one of their more modest collections, but certainly carries an empowering message.
I’m Your Present by Kelly Eident in Rhode Island, USA
Definitely cheeky, and some of the BEST statement earrings I own! Kelly’s pieces are loud and playful, and are the perfect accompaniment to a LBD or well-worn Levis. I wouldn’t go to a party without donning a pair of her mirrored champagne flutes, or a cotton candy event without her fairy floss marvels! Surprisingly, they aren’t that heavy and I can wear them night. Check out her shop on Etsy for a spooktacular Halloween Collection and an over the top Christmas Blitz too!
Wolf and Moon by Hannah Davis in London
Wolf and Moon are the go-to for elegant everyday laser-cut jewelry in modern finishes. Their collection is inspired by nature and includes finishes such as wood grain, gold, and silver. Also keep them in mind for that special occasion that requires a subtle-tiara. Wolf and Moon’s nymph-like headpieces give an effect that is both fantastically regal and somehow, at the same time casual.
If you’re inspired by the above artisans – why not try making your own acrylic laser-cut jewelry? Local maker-spaces and machines at consumer-friendly prices could be your answer. BONUS! Residents in Harris County can even utilize a laser cutter at the Freeman Library in Houston TX! There may be one in your city too.
And just to show I’m a true believer – here’s a pic of me at last year’s Pop Shop Fall Festival sporting I’m Your Present’s delicious Cotton Candy earrings!
Thanks for reading – feel encouraged to post your comments below if you’ve ever tried making laser-cut acrylic jewelry or have a favorite vintage piece!
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