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

Researching Costume Jewelry

Jewelry lovers, venture through this amazing database of vintage jewelry articles, catalogs, and brochures, as well… [read review or visit site]

Art Deco 1910-1939

Art Deco 1910-1939

This Victoria and Albert Museum has a terrific collection of Art Deco objects. On the VAM's website, you can learn … [read review or visit site]

Emerald City Vintage Costume Jewelry

Emerald City Vintage Costume Jewelry

It looks like we're not in Kansas anymore with Elizabeth Rowlands' site on vintage costume jewelry from the 1940s a… [read review or visit site]

Decopix

Decopix

Randy Juster's survey of Art Deco imagery and reference on all things Deco. Includes pages on murals, houses, gov… [read review or visit site]

Modernism

Modernism

This archived overview produced by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts offers thumbnail sketches of the design moveme… [read review or visit site]

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Jewelry collectors, feast your eyes on this internet gem! It's a goldmine of jewelry information featuring all styl… [read review or visit site]

All About Jewels Dictionary

All About Jewels Dictionary

This incredible reference dictionary on jewelry, from Enchantedlearning.com, is both beautiful and comprehensive. S… [read review or visit site]

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

With its vast galleries featuring clear images of jewelry and style, this site really covers it all! Divided up by … [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Fantastic Vintage Bakelite Brooch Pin - Cruise Ship With Luggage Dangle Vintage Genuine Mottled Red Heavily Carved Bakelite Bangle BraceletVintage Bakelite Bracelet Lot Bangles Carved 11 PiecesNice Vintage Bakelite Jumping Horse Pin With Glass Eye.no ReserveVintage Genuine Dark Coral Colored Carved Bakelite Bangle BraceletVintage Art Deco Apple Juice Reverse Carved Bakelite Stretch BraceletVintage Black Bakelite Changer Deep Carved Bangle Bracelet Teal GreenVintage Bakelite Brooch Pin - Winter Hat With Ice Skates - Really CuteVintage Genuine Cherry Red Carved Bakelite Clamper BraceletRare Antique Art Deco Cherry Amber Bakelite Barrel Prayer Bead Faturan NecklaceMarbled Vtg Bakelite Apple Green Rope Carved Bracelet Bangle 5/8" Wide 4 Bakelite Bangle/bracelets LotRare Heavily Carved Spinach Green Heavyweight Bakelite Bangle BraceletChunky Vintage Marbled Black Butterscotch Bakelite Wrist Watch Clamper BraceletLot X 2 Vintage Genuine Bakelite Green Chunky Bangles Tested ~nice Pieces!6 Bakelite Bangle/bracelet LotEnd Of The Day - 1940's Bakelite Or Catalin Carved Vintage Bangle BraceletBold Vintage Faux Tortoise Shell Black Celluloid Bakelite Cameo Pendant NecklaceVery Rare Vintage Art Deco Teal Blue Bakelite Clamper BraceletVtg Deeply Carved Heavy Cherry Amber Bakelite Thermoset Bangle Bracelet 68 GmsVintage Bakelite Belt & Buckle Expanding BraceletVintage Bakelite Bracelet, Multi-color DotsBig Bold Chunky Vintage Marbled Root Beer Bakelite Bead NecklaceVintage Genuine Mustard Colored Bakelite Carved Bangle BraceletVintage Genuine Tangerine Colored Carved Bakelite Bangle BraceletUnusual Vintage Art Deco Cognac Amber Bakelite Bead NecklaceVintage Art Deco Instant Bakelite Jewelry Collection Bracelet Pin Pendant ButtonSuper Art Deco 102 Gms Tested Cherry Amber Bakelite Beads NecklaceVintage 1930's Art Deco Rootbeer Translucent Bakelite Bead NecklaceHeavy 90 G Large Butterscotch Amber Egg Yolk Bakelite Bead Necklace Art Deco 3 Vintage Bakelite Or Plastic Green & Yellow Marble Daisy Or Scallop BraceletsWeiss Bakelite Or Celluloid Rhinestone Clamper Bangle Hinged Bracelet Vintage6 Dot Bakelite Bangle BraceletVintage Bakelite Brooch Pin Bowling Ball With 8 Bowling Pin Dangles1930s Art Deco Cherry Amber Bakelite Round Bead Necklace & Earrings-30gms-rare!8 Fabulously Colorful Bakelite Ball Buttons4 Vintage Bracelets-bakelite?old Plastic?red-green-yellow-brown-nr!3 Vintage Carved Bakelite Bangle Bracelets Pineapple Cherry Amber Flowers GreenVintage Bakelite Bracelet Worry Beads 15 Amber Butterscotch 30 Grams Vintage Root Beer Colored Bakelite? Bamboo Style Bangle BraceletVintage Art Deco Jewellery Lucite/bakelite? Brass Back Scottie Dog BroochVintage Genuine Red And Green Layered Bakelite Bangle Bracelet™Vintage Genuine Black Bakelite Faceted Bangle BraceletVintage Bakelite Expanding BraceletVintage Deco Cherry Amber Bakelite Bead Necklace More ListedVintage Bakelite 31" Barrel Bead Necklace Red Cherry Green Marble ButterscotchExtra Wide! Vintage Genuine Bakelite Cherry Red Bangle Tested PositiveVintage Antique Art Deco Bakelite Sweetheart Mourning Portrait Ring Handsome ManOh So Rare Vintage Art Deco Cherry Amber Bakelite Belt Buckle Stretch Bracelet!Vintage Bakelite Bracelet, Red & Butterscotch (tested)Gorgeous Butterscotch Floral Carved Bakelite Clamper Bracelet Vintage Bakelite Brooch Pin Black & Orange Painted Butterfly With StonesVintage Art Deco 1930's Bakelite Carved Pierced Laurel Bangle Bracelet Vintage Yellow Plastic (bakelite?) Hinged BraceletAntique Art Deco Vintage Necklace Pendant Bronze Tone Engraved Bakelite Wow 409014 Pc Vintage Bakelite Plastic Lot Ring Bangles Necklace Earring Carved BraceletLaminated Bakelite Celluloid Black Cream Prison Mourning Photo Ring Young GirlAntique C1920 Art Deco Sherry Amber Bakelite Graduating Bead Necklace 27.3gm A/fSet Of 5 Number Antique C1920 Art Deco Cherry Amber Bakelite Barrel Beads

Recent News: Bakelite Costume Jewelry

Source: Google News

Think outside the big box: Try these independent stores
Detroit Free Press, July 18th

Most are in the $20-25 range, a few are $30ish. Their prints range from anchors to elephants, flowers to paisley patterns. Also: retro-looking plastic clutch-style purses that look like Bakelite. If costume jewelry doesn't appeal to you, here's betting...Read more

Direct from Market: Dallas
Gifts & Decorative Accessories, June 27th

Other jewelry of note were the colorful, plastic fashion watches from Time Will Tell in vintage Bakelite looks , translucent gel colors and two-tone and multicolor designs; and Brass Images handcrafted, Fair Trade brass and copper jewelry imported by...Read more

Opening and Sales for the Week of June 26
New York Times, June 25th

At 135 Greene Street. The Antiques Garage is closing, but this weekend the beloved Chelsea vintage market (it was started in 1976 on an empty corner lot) will have a last hurrah, so be sure to get your fill of Bakelite jewelry, French corsetry and...Read more

Jezebels Open on 18th Street in Homewood
Over the Mountain Journal, June 24th

The shop also carries Bakelite jewelry and pieces by old Hollywood glamour designers like Miriam Haskell, White said. “These are pieces collected from my travels all over the world–from Paris, India, Istanbul and Hong Kong to Santa Fe, New York City...Read more