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.
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
Researching Costume Jewelry
Art Deco 1910-1939
Emerald City Vintage Costume Jewelry
Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry
All About Jewels Dictionary
Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery
Clubs & Associations
Most watched eBay auctions
Recent News: Bakelite Costume Jewelry
Source: Google News
Watch the Delightful New Trailer For Iris Apfel Doc, IrisPapermag, March 12th
In this just-released trailer, we see her at home gently bickering with her 100-year-old husband and business partner, showing off her knee-weakening couture costume jewelry collection (there's Bakelite for days) and exhibiting a general fierceness...Read more
Aurélie Bidermann Paris Presentation |Women's Wear Daily, March 12th
BIDERMANN'S BESTIES: It's no secret that Aurélie Bidermann's jewelry has its share of fans, and judging from the designer's constant interruptions while walking through her new collection to greet beloved friends and guests during her presentation in...Read more
Button Up! The beauty of buttonsFond du Lac Reporter, March 9th
Who remembers their grandmother's button jar, raise your hand. You may think a button is just a button, but to Gwen Biddle and thousands of other connoisseurs across the nation who collect, trade, exhibit and compete in the world of collectible buttons...Read more
12 Inventors, Inventions, And Innovations Westchester Can Call Its OwnWestchester Magazine, March 6th
But Bakelite had more aesthetic uses, too. From the time of its invention until the late 1940s, and especially during the Roaring '20s, Bakelite jewelry was extremely popular. In 1939, following years of commercial success, Baekeland retired to sail...Read more
Artful Shopper: Judy's Antiques and JewelryThe 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
'Restless Pack Rat' Asks $13M for Collectible-Filled TownhomeCurbed 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
Alexis Bittar Marks Major Milestone With One-of-a-Kind CollectionElle (blog), January 17th
His design innovation was to fuse the ideology of Bakelite jewelry with the applications of Lalique glass, using an industrial material to create beautifully colored, semitranslucent pieces. "Most plastics are injection molded," he explains. "So it's...Read more
Antiques expert: It pays to knowJournal and Courier, October 17th
Somehow, Wanat spotted Bakelite — an early plastic resin now-turned-collectible costume jewelry that peaked in popularity during the 1930s and '40s — in a locked glass case near a fur-trimmed vintage jacket that had the jaunty '60s imprint of former...Read more