News-Antique.com - Jul 17,2008 - When I first started in the business as an antique jewelry dealer I found the wide use of the name Jelly Belly to be very confusing. I have since learned that Collector's usually agree that in order to qualify as a true Jelly Belly, the belly portion must be made of Lucite, not glass; and must be clear, not colored. The clear Lucite cabochon is the predominate feature of a pin. The most coveted pieces are larger pieces with Lucite set in sterling vermeil (gold washed sterling) which can be both beautiful and whimsical.
A Jelly Belly is a clear Lucite (thermoplastic acrylic resin) shape set in sterling silver or metal. Since Jelly Bellies all have a Lucite component, and Lucite was invented by DuPont in 1937, no Jelly Bellies are older than that. Jewelry historian Pat Seal said she doubted if any were made much before 1938 and the bulk of them were made during the war years of 1943-1945. The ones of that era were mounted in sterling silver settings. Sterling was rationed and very expensive, so adding a piece of Lucite to the design made it possible to produce large, eye-catching designs. After the war and into the 1950's they were made in base metals, but all of them are delightful!
Many costume jewelry manufacturers used the Jelly Bellies which means some are marked and some are not, but most famous are the Trifari and Corocraft sterling designs, which incorporated fantastic design with breathtaking quality of materials and craftsmanship. A story in circulation is that as part of their War efforts, Trifari installed Plexiglas windshield & turrets in military bombers. The company would only use flawless material. They were left with rejected material and rather than throw it away Alfred Phillipe had cabochons cut from the Plexiglas and incorporated them into jewelry designs.
Although Lucite isn't really considered a "specialty stone" it is harder to find and does have features that set it apart from regular cabs. For instance, it will sometimes be seen embedded with rhinestones or reverse carved. Generally you can find examples in books on costume jewelry, one of which written by Roseann Ettinger entitled FORTIES AND FIFTIES COSTUME JEWELRY shows several Jelly Bellies and says they were originally created during the 1940s when the US could no longer import rhinestones, and many manufactures used clear Lucite to simulate rock crystal. I also have a couple displayed on my website at www.AntiqueJewelryCollectibles.com that you are welcome to take a look at.
Like all sought after vintage jewelry, Jelly Bellies have been copied both in large quantities and for private collections. These show up on the market, and though some can fetch good prices, in many cases they are not marked with a designer’s name (not all unsigned pieces are reproductions though). Also, most experienced sellers know that only the clear Lucite is a true Jelly Belly. Only inexperienced sellers or con-artists trying to get top dollar for an item would use the keyword Jelly