Léa Stein: The Queen of Colour

Léa Stein was an artist and accessories maker who revolutionised the world of plastic jewellery. Her compressed plastic brooches depicting brightly coloured animals and faces are instantly recognisable. As a result, imitations are very common.

Léa Stein: early life and career

Born in France in 1936, Stein began her career in the fashion industry. At this time, new forms and uses of plastic filtered through all areas of design and Stein became interested in what she could do with the material. Her husband was chemist Fernand Steinberger, with whom she often experimented with manipulating plastics. Together, Léa and Fernand developed a process of layering sheets of cellulose acetate to form strong material that held its colour and could be cut into shapes. Between different coloured layers, Stein inserted patterned fabrics, including lace. She would then bake the compressed layers for a long time and allow them to cool before cutting them into shapes. The whole process could take up to 6 months.

In her early work, Stein focused on plastic buttons, sold through French department stores, and serigraphy brooches depicting women’s faces, created by pressing ink through a screen onto the brooch background. She produced these serigraphy brooches in relatively small numbers, so they are the rarest of her jewellery to find today.

Léa Stein: later designs

Stein produced her characteristic animal brooches and bangles in two periods: 1969-81 and 1991 to present. Her ‘Quarrelsome Cat’, ‘Renard Fox’, ‘Ladybird’, ‘Cicada’, ‘Athena The Owl’ and ‘Dog’ designs, amongst many other animals, are often made of contrasting, bright colours and special finishes, including shell and mother-of-pearl, glitter, lace and tortoiseshell appearances. All brooches have her characteristic V-shape pin fitting, which is either heat mounted into the plastic or riveted. Apart from her earliest creations, the brooch fittings are all stamped ‘Lea Stein Paris’.

Léa Stein: jewellery at auction

two brooches Lea stein 1

In the Jewellery & Costume Jewellery Day Two on Wednesday 19th October there are two brooches in one lot. Lot 764 features a brooch depicting a lady in profile and a fox brooch for just £30 – £50.

We regularly see Léa Stein brooches in our weekly Jewellery auctions. While the estimates on these pieces are often very attractive, the rarer designs can command high prices.

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