Lucite candles may not be a term that you are overly familiar with, but most people will have seen one at least once in their life. Unlike traditional candles that are designed to be burnt to give light and create ambiance, a Lucite candle is purely decorative.
This means a Lucite candle is hardwearing, easily wiped, and will not cause any wax to drip on any holders. Lucite candles were particularly popular in the late sixties and early seventies when they gained popularity alongside the trend of acrylic furniture. While they have declined somewhat in popularity since they often achieve an increased price from vintage dealers and auction houses.
A Lucite candle is molded from a type of acrylic resin. It is favored for the clarity of the material which means that decorative substances like glitter can be suspended in the mixture to good effect. Unlike traditional candles, a Lucite candle is purely cosmetic and should not be lit.
Lucite Candles History
Lucite as a material was invented in the early 1930s by the specialty chemical manufacturer, Dupont. While we will get to Lucite’s association with candles in due course, the material’s initial application was in the windshields of fighter planes during World War 2.
Lucite is a type of malleable thermoplastic acrylic resin that was designed as a better-quality variation of acrylic resins that were available at the time. Lucite is more durable than glass, which became scarce during wartime while still retaining an excellent level of transparency, vital for a fighter plane’s window. In addition, Lucite was discovered to be resistant to factors such as water or UV rays, that would traditionally damage other acrylic compounds.
Lucite was reserved for fairly practical applications in the military and manufacturing until the end of the war and into the early forties when designers began to make use of it in costume jewelry. Designers experimented with different colored hues and placing items, like glitter into the resin. The high transparency, durability, and malleable nature made it a winner for creative jewelry designers of the time.
Lucite received increased interest and revival in the sixties and early seventies when famed interior designer, Charles Hollis Jones, pioneered the use of clear resin in the form of Lucite to make furniture and interior items such as ornaments and ultimately decorative candles.
What are Lucite Candles made of?
Lucite candles are rather unsurprisingly made of, well, Lucite. We mentioned above that this is a form of thermoplastic acrylic resin. If you are not a chemistry buff, this basically means a type of plastic that can be heated to high temperatures and then molded to a specific shape. Once cooled this hardens and holds the shape.
There are lots of different types of acrylic resins, but Lucite is favored in design aspects for its high transparency. In the manufacturing process, there is the option to introduce color hues or other reflective materials like glitter to enhance the appearance further.
A Lucite candle is often made of a clear Lucite resin with varying densities of metallic glitter often in shades of gold or silver. Typically, a piece of metallic string or wire is often attached at the top to replicate a wick.
How do Lucite Candles work? Can you burn them?
A traditional wax candle’s primary purpose is to provide light; the wick is lit and the wax provides fuel to the flame. By comparison, a Lucite candle’s primary purpose is decorative.
You cannot and should not light a lucite candle. Burning a lucite candle is effectively burning plastic, this means that potentially toxic gasses will be given off and it would be a significant fire risk if any dripping plastic were to melt on items around it.
A Lucite candle “works” by providing a long-lasting decorative candle, that looks like a traditional candle. However, it will not be subject to discoloration and is more durable than a wax variation. The distinctive glass-like transparency of a Lucite candle can rarely be matched by traditional candles and offers up a new design choice for the home. As a Lucite candle is never lit, they are long-lasting and can be re-purposed into different candle holders or areas of your home.
How to make Lucite Candles
The process of making a Lucite candle is very different than the formation of a traditional wax candle. It is much more akin to a chemistry experiment. While traditional candle-making methods include dipping and re-dipping to build layers of wax, making a Lucite candle requires casting a mold.
Firstly, a mold is made or purchased, then the right balance of acrylic polymer and hardener needs to be mixed in order for it to set fully. If a purely clear Lucite candle is the desired outcome there is no need to add anything else, but often designers will insert metallic flakes to add visual interest to the piece. This needs to be swirled in prior to the mixture hardening fully.
While glitter is the most common choice, the sky is the limit. Some of the more creative variations of Lucite candles can incorporate everything from small gemstones to all-matter of trinkets like toy cars or shells. It just requires a bigger mold. The transparent nature of Lucite gives the impression that the items are suspended in space.
Once set the Lucite candle can be popped from the mold. The final product is wiped down and buffed to ensure clarity and any final touches like a base or decorative wick can be attached by glue.
Are Lucite Candles better?
Whether Lucite candles are better than traditional candles comes down to the purpose of their use. If you want light, then a Lucite candle is sub-par as you cannot light them. However, if you want a decorative candle to place in a candelabra or to give a striking visual impact, the sparkly nature of a Lucite candle is hard to beat.
To add to the appeal of Lucite candles, they have become somewhat of a vintage piece. They peaked in popularity in the seventies and have decreased in the decades since. Auction houses and vintage stores often trade in the more pristine examples of Lucite candles to great success. The relative rarity of them tends to drive demand.
Lucite candles also have a role in supporting other design choices. There are examples of designers making beautifully designed but ultimately impractical candle holders, chandeliers, or candelabras. Burning a traditional candle runs the risk of wax damaging the holder, in this instance a Lucite candle gives the perfect option to still give the impression of a real candle without running the risk of damage.
Lucite candles are a decorative variation of traditional candles that are made of long-lasting and durable thermoplastic acrylic resin. The high transparency of Lucite gives a clear glasslike material that lends itself well to decorative designs. Gems or reflective materials can be suspended in the resin mixture to give a striking impression.
Unfortunately, they are purely decorative and cannot be burnt. They were particularly popular in the late sixties and early seventies and as such have gained popularity in the vintage market.