These design icons were established in the 1960’s by Lea Stein. The technique of layering cellulose acetate sheets was perfected by her husband, Fernand Steinberger, a scientist. Their combined talent and ingenuity created the textures and colours that have become synonymous with the brooches that we know and love.
The brooches take on a 3d effect as one layer shows through the other layers ( up to 20 ) and also adds a depth of colour unique to Lea Stein designs. An added feature is the V shaped pin back which is always marked “Lea Stein Paris” although there are some smaller pieces do have straight pin backs which just say “Lea Stein”.
One of the myths surrounding Lea Stein is that she started in the 1930’s because many of the designs are influenced by the Art Deco era however Lea Stein was born in 1931 so this is not the case. There have also been suggestions that earlier jewellery was made using Bakelite, which was widely used in that period and it is acknowledged that the cellulose acetate does resemble Bakelite.
Lea Stein was a button designer from 1965-1967 where she used rhodoid which is the cellulose acetate she later used in her jewellery from 1969 – 1981. The failure of her button business saw her turning to jewellery design and production. In 1981 she sold her remaining stock to an american dealer who marketed her jewellery very successfully in America.
Lea Stein returned to what she enjoyed and was good at creating and making plastic jewellery. Every year since 1988 she has created a new piece with the older pieces commanding the higher prices.