Made from a mix of camphor and nitrocellulose, celluloid is one of the many materials that have been used over the years in the manufacture of vintage jewelry. Its origin may be traced back to 1850s England and one Alexander Parkes. Parkes, who reportedly discovered the material by accident, initially used it to create waterproof apparel.
By the 1860s, the material had found its way into the United States and into the hands of John Wesley Hyatt. He initially used it to create billiard balls. However, it eventually was used to create other items, including jewelry. It was sometimes designed to resemble carved ivory, which was heavily in use at the time. Interestingly enough, ivory itself wasn’t banned from being used commercially until many years later.
Although it was clearly used early on, the use of celluloid in jewelry manufacturing didn’t really seem to take off until America’s Art Deco period. Perhaps this was partially due to its ability to take linear, abstract, stylized and geometric shapes so flawlessly. The use of celluloid didn’t end with prohibition either. It continued to remain in favor well into the 1950s.
Shown is an example of an Art Deco necklace made of celluloid and metal.