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

Source: Google News

The last minute rush
Greensburg Daily News, February 10th

Jewelry: Go Hollywood glam with a strand of pearls or a mid-century rhinestone choker. Appeal to the Gypsy in her soul with Bakelite beads and bangle brackets, or opt for the romantic with a heart-shaped locket or a Cameo. The selections at our major...Read more

Antibiotic resistant bacteria
The Voice Observer (blog), February 4th

They have made a major contribution to human health. Many diseases that once killed people can now be treated effectively with antibiotics. However, some bacteria have become resistant to commonly used antibiotics. are bacteria that are not controlled...Read more

A Movement, a Moment
Palm Springs Life, February 1st

But in becoming rare and increasingly hard to find, Bakelite entered an era of appreciation that it previously had been denied. Even Coco Chanel had dismissed her Bakelite as “costume jewelry” — but with time and with hindsight, Bakelite was...Read more

Buttons tell stories of status and style
The San Diego Union-Tribune, January 30th

He was rifling through a bulk bin on the lookout for Bakelite, or early plastic, pieces to complete a sweater his wife was knitting for their daughter. “It'll make it more special,” said Gorham, who works as an interior designer. “The button world is...Read more

Jewelry designer Mark Davis to show Bakelite bracelets at Betteridge Jewelers
Palm Beach Daily News, January 28th

Over a century later, jewelry designer Mark Davis is transforming these original Bakelite bangles into modern, collectible baubles with his addition of semi-precious gems and gold inlaid into the original pieces. He was chosen by Barneys stores...Read more

Bakelite jewelry projected as hot collectible for 2016
Huntington Herald Dispatch, December 26th

According to Lori Verderame, Ph.D., noted antique appraiser, one of the collectibles to watch this year will be Bakelite jewelry. Bakelite is a plastic that can be easily cast into a variety of shapes, plus it is fireproof. It was invented by Leo...Read more

Williamsburg exhibit reviews folk jewelry spawned by the Great Depression
Daily Press, July 11th

Born in the late 1920s, Thunderbird jewelry was partly a response to the increasing cost and scarcity of such traditional materials as shell and jet — and partly a response to seeing the new yet inexpensive Bakelite jewelry worn by so many visitors in...Read more

Bonhams auctions vintage Bakelite jewelry
Los Angeles Times (blog), December 14th

Bakelite jewelry was one of the only affordable accessories for women during the Great Depression, but it's expected to fetch a pretty penny at auction this week. Bonhams will auction off close to 300 pieces of Bakelite -- molded baubles made from an...Read more