Bakelite was an early plastic resin, developed by Leo Baekeland in 1907. Originally used for industrial purposes thanks to its ability to withstand heat, molded Bakelite and its cast cousin, Catalin, made the jump to costume jewelry in the 1920s and had their heyday in the 1930s and ’40s.

Costume-jewelry manufacturers were attracted to Bakelite for numerous reasons. First, it was hard enough to cut and polish, which made it a terrific choice for everything from brooches to beads to bracelets, its most popular application. Techniques ranged from scratching the surface lightly in repeated or decorative patterns to outright carving. Some carved pieces have deep valleys and furrows; others sport patterns that suggest the outside of a pineapple or the facets of a jewel.

Equally appealing was Bakelite’s range of colors, which were given names like Creamed Corn, Butterscotch, Egg Yolk, and Salmon. Some types of Bakelite were marbled—Mississippi Mud, Creamed Spinach, and Chocolate Sundae capture the character of these mixed hues beautifully. Less common was translucent Bakelite in Root Beer, Lime Jell-O, and Cherry Juice.

While some Bakelite costume jewelry was fashioned from solid blocks of a single color, many more began as laminated pieces, in which horizontal or zigzag layers of complementary colors were combined. Sometimes pieces were laminated to create polka dots; other times polka dots were hand painted on an object’s surface, and in the 1950s polka dots and gumdrop shapes were injected into Bakelite during the manufacturing process itself.

Of the brooches and pins, one of the most popular treatments during the Art Deco 1930s was to combine Ebony Bakelite—an imitation of the jet pieces from the Victorian era—with rhinestones or inlaid silver. Egyptian motifs were in vogue, as were pins in the shapes of animals (cats, camels, dogs, birds) and plants, especially flowers and clusters of dangling cherries. Especially collectible are the World War II era MacArthur Hearts, which consisted of a 3-by-3-inch key-shaped pin, from which dangled a puffy red heart with a keyhole in its center—it was sold with a card that read "He holds the key to my heart."

The most famous use of Bakelite in jewelry was as bracelets. Many of these were formed of large, block- or medallion-shaped beads that were strung together on strips of elastic. Other Bakelite bracelets were hinged, carved into the shapes of serpents, or left open at the back so they could be easily slipped onto a wrist. Some bracelets incorporated chrome accents into their designs, others combined Bakelite with Czech glass.

But the most collectible types of Bakelite bangles are the so-called Philadelphia bracelets, which take their name from a Philadelphia auction in 1985 that featured two of these remarkable pieces. Philadelphia bracelets are always laminated in colors that include green, red, and yellow. The best pieces are hinged, and feature either multicolor laminated wedges or individually colored slices that have been glued onto the bracelet body, which is usually a rich shade of Butterscotch.


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Recent News: Bakelite Costume Jewelry

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Artful Shopper: Judy's Antiques and Jewelry
The News-Press, February 27th

We have hard to find items like Bakelite, amber and fine jewelry. We have an antique 1900s Christmas tree in the window with vintage Christmas decorations and we keep it up year round. Anything special for Mothers Day? We have a lot of interesting...Read more

Bridal Bouquets: A Different Take
Press of Atlantic City (blog), February 23rd

The big enamel flowers, Bakelite and Lucite jewelry will add pop and create a Mod, 1960s look to your bouquet. Look for the warm gold, green, orange and yellow punches of jewelry from this era. You could create a mid-century modern, kitschy bouquet; ...Read more

In the Clear: Alexis Bittar Celebrates 25 Years of Working in Lucite
Style.com, February 19th

Back when minimalism came around the first time in the early '90s, Alexis Bittar went against the mold and began selling sculpted Lucite jewelry on Prince Street—and the rest is history. Equal parts wearable art and '40s Bakelite-inspired accessories...Read more

Hampden Junque store celebrates 20th year on The Avenue
Baltimore Sun, February 18th

There's also a thimble collection, a Brooks Robinson drinking glass next to a Ronald McDonald drinking glass, a Baltimore Ravens wool cap with a pompom, Bakelite napkin rings from the 1940s, and an ashtray from Hochschild Kohn's department store. There...Read more

Lucite International Celebrates Iconic Jewelry Designer Alexis Bittar's 25 ...
Yahoo Finance UK, February 18th

Bittar's work, which fused the ideology of Bakelite jewelry with the applications of Lalique glass, was unheard of and quite rare in the era of 90s minimalism. His distinctive, sculptural pieces have become instantly recognizable ever since he began...Read more

Alexis Bittar Taps Contemporary Artists for 25th Anniversary Lucite Art
BLOUIN ARTINFO, February 15th

“It's incredibly translucent and it reflects light beautifully, and there's a real mystery to how it can manipulate light and color as a material,” Bittar tells Blouin Lifestyle, adding that he “came up with the Lucite process by using bakelite and...Read more

Greenwich Winter Antiques Show
Maine Antique Digest, February 12th

Sales were made in booths where the dealers are known and have a loyal, strong following, including Jeff R. Bridgman for American flags, The Spare Room for vintage jewelry and ceramics, Michele Fox for textiles and Bakelite, B. Gallagher for fireplace ...Read more

'Restless Pack Rat' Asks $13M for Collectible-Filled Townhome
Curbed NY, February 10th

Robert Lerch is an ear, nose, and throat doctor, sure, but he's also an avid collector of... everything. And his townhouse on East 83rd Street is packed to the brim with "with early-20th-century Bakelite jewelry, Art Nouveau bronze frogs and dragons...Read more