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The introduction of plastic materials for making jewelry


Plastics have always fascinated us. Part of their appeal is that they have such limitless possibilities. Their texture, density, and opacity can be controlled to give them almost any desired appearance, and they can even mimic other materials such as glass, wood, or gemstone. While we may think of plastic as a modern material for making jewelry, it has actually existed for more than a century. The earliest plastics were made from natural materials such as shellac, which derives from tropical beetles, casein, from milk curds, and keratin, which is found in bone and hone. These first plastics served as substitutes for expensive and scarce natural materials, like ivory or tortoiseshell. In the late 1800s came the invention of semi-synthetic plastics such as celluloid and cellulose acetate, used in products like billiard balls, combs, and knife handles. The chemical invented was the first entirely used as electrical insulation and later in the production of jewelry that remains both popular and valuable today. Subsequently many other types of plastics were invented, PVC, vinyl, and acrylic among them. The entry of the United States in World War II created an even greater demand for plastics to substitute for materials that were in short supply. This caused a boom in plastics research, and the invention of the many plastics with which we’re familiar with today.

There are two basic categories of plastics are used for making jewelry. Thermoplastics can be formed using heat without any chemical changes to the material. Commonly known as acrylic, they tolerate heating and cooling an unlimited number of times. Thermosetting plastics on the other hand, can only undergo one heating and cooling process, usually by mixing a resin with a curling agent. Once this chemical reaction occurs, it is nonreversible.

Thermoplastics – Acrylic won’t yellow with time and is unaffected by the sun, salt, or many harsh chemical. Its resistant to impact, too, through concentrated stress may cause crazing-small, hairline cracks. Clear acrylic is more transparent than glass and more than 50 percent lighter in weight. Acrylic sheet can be cut, carved, bent, formed, glued, polished, machined, and fabricated. The possibilities of acrylic are only limited by your creativity.

Acrylic is manufactured under many trademark names, including Plexiglas, Perspex, acrylite, and Lucite, and comes in sheets, blocks, rods, and tubes, either clear or in a number of colors, and textures. It is available in many transparencies, including transparent, translucent, and opaque. The raw material may be purchased in either extruded or cast form.

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