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    

Cherry Amber Bakelite Faturan Necklace 124gms 36inches TestedAntique Dark Red Cherry Amber Bakelite Faturan Graduated Beads Necklace 111 GramAntique C1920 Art Deco Cherry Amber Bakelite Graduating Bead Necklace 65g J7183Antique Cherry Red Bakelite Dangling Cherries Fruit Pin Brooch & Earring SetVintage Cherry Amber Bakelite Faturan Graduated Oval Bead Necklace 36 Grams Vintage Rare Thick Art Deco 6 Polka Dot Red Cream Bakelite Bracelet - BangleHuge Chunky Heavy Vintage Cherry Amber Bakelite Bead - 42.6 Grams Tested (a4)Signed Shultz Bakelite Bracelet,this Is A Thick BraceletVintage Cherry Red Amber Bakelite Beads For Necklace 67.8 Grams Tested BakeliteVintage Art Deco Cherry Red Amber Bakelite Bangle Bracelet 42 GramsVintage Genuine Bakelite Butterscotch Egg Yolk Graduated Beaded Necklace Victorian Cherry Amber Faturan Bakelite Necklace 73 GrammesVintage Cherry Amber Bakelite Necklace With 14kt Gold ClaspBakelite Pendant Charms Pink Orange Yellow Necklace Jewelry Designs Making-230Vintage Rare Book Piece Deco Philadelphia Checkerboard Bakelite Bracelet BangleCollection Of 25 Vintage Bakelite Multicolor Smooth And Carved Bangle BraceletsHuge Lot 85 Pc Vintage Rhinestone Jewelry Juliana Hobe Bakelite Germany Trifari Vintage Necklace Possibly Bakelite Cherry Red ColourAntique Cherry Red Amber Bakelite Faturan Barrel Shape Beads Necklace 42 Grams1920's Antique Rhinestone French Celluloid Carved Bangle BraceletBakelite Bead Necklace Butterscotch Egg Yolk Amber Deco Mothers Day Gift 1930sVintage Bracelet Lot; Vintage To Contemporary; Approximately 51 Bracelets!!Antique Art Deco Round Faceted Cherry Amber Bakelite Bead NecklaceVintage 1980's Plastic Bell Charm Necklace 24 Charms Retro Clip OnVintage Strand Of Butterscotch Amber Bakelite Beads. Huge Beads. 1920/30s.Gorgeous Vintage Art Deco Cherry Amber Bakelite Necklace 61gVintage Necklace Antique Old Cherry Amber Bakelite Graduated Beads Art DecoVintage Red Bakelite Strawberry Brooch Simichrome Tested Vintage Bakelite Era Carved Wood Celluloid Football Cheerleader BroochVintage Art Deco Cherry Amber Bakelite Graduated Bead Necklace 38.7 G FaturanWow! Vintage Uber Mod Punk Copper Aluminum Chrome Spike Gear Bangle Bracelet SetVery Rare Vintage Sky Blue Swirl Bakelite Bangle BraceletVintage Art Deco Celluloid Rhinestone Sparkle Enamel Bracelet - BangleAntique Brooch 9ct Gold 4" Big Faux Tiger Tooth Claw Bakelite Amber Spare RepairStrand Of Round 14mm Faux Cherry Amber Beads Bakelite Plastic NecklaceDouble Strand Bakelite Plastic Imitation Butterscotch Amber Bead Necklace OldRare Complete 1950's Avon Promotional Multi-colored Bakelite Bangle Ring Set Vintage Cherry Amber Bead Faturan Bakelite ? Necklace Graduated Round 25 GWide Deep Carved "green Apple Juice" Bakelite Bangle Bracelet Vintage Jewelry NrVintage Jewelry 105pc Lucite Bakelite Rhinestone Necklaces Bracelets Earrings40s Pierced/carved Bakelite/catalin Bangle/cuff Bracelet X3-yellow/butterscotchVintage 1930s Bakelite Or Early Plastic Hinged Bangle BraceletVintage Shultz Bakelite Scotty Dog Carved Pin Brooch SignedUnusual Vintage Marbled Green Carved Bakelite Bird On Branch Bangle Bracelet1 Lot Of 5- Vintage Chinese Red Cinnabar Bracelets / Bangles "lovely" Vintage Bakelite End Of Day Unsual Amazing Colors Spinach Bangle Bracelet (testeLot Of Vintage Retro Bakelite Red Butterscotch & White Bangles BraceletsBakelite Bead Necklace Rare Rose Pink Deco 1930 Mothers Day Gift Retro 32 InchVintage Bakelite Bracelets - Set Of 2Antique Art Deco Japanese's Large Chrystanthemum Floral Celluloid Brooch Pin40s Plastic Bakelite Oriental Pin And Earrings Bright Black And Red GraphicRare Carved "butterscotch Bakelite" horse Head Brooch W/dangles Vintage Jewelry Vintage Bakelite Oval Napkin Ring Set Of 8 Ridged-gorgeous! 225 Grams* 2" Wide Vintage 3-color Laminated Bakelite/lucite Bangle / Bracelet - 112 GrStacked Bakelite Button Bracelet With Black Jade Beads #66Good Vintage Deco Gold Metal & Cherry Amber Bakelite Bead Necklace Vintage Art Deco Amber Bakelite Panel Bracelet - Tested BakeliteVintage Chocolate Sundae Marbled & Cream Corn Bakelite Slice BraceletsVintage Carved Bakelite Reddish Brown Horse Head Pin / Brooch / 2 1/2" NrHtf 2 Vintage Black Overdyed Tube Bakelite Bangles Carved Caramel & Butterscotch