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 Mu...
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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When Shopping Meets Collecting: All About Vintage Costume JewelryThe Fashion Spot (blog), May 15th
You can check out a video on identifying Bakelite jewelry on Martinez's YouTube channel: What Is Bakelite? YouTube is a great resource for videos on how to identify authentic vintage, be it fashion or jewelry. Chanel earrings from the 80s...Read more
Celluloid had wide variety of usesPlattsburgh Press Republican, May 13th
Before vinyl records and Barbie dolls, polyethylene Tupperware, Melmac dishes, Formica countertops, nylon stockings and Bakelite, celluloid was the first successful man-made plastic. EARLY USES. Celluloid was developed in the latter part of By the...Read more
The business of buttonsHopkinton Crier, May 3rd
Since people have heard of her jewelry-making endeavor and her "upcycling" style, she is sent even more buttons. Once, she said, a nun sent her a suitcase full. Like any self-respecting collector, Martin knows the history of her buttons. "This is...Read more
Take Pride in Ridgefield: A town's teamwork, beautyThe Ridgefield Press, May 2nd
Some of the items for purchase will be: oriental carpets; patio and garden furniture and accessories; period formal, oak, country and modern furniture; textiles; antiques, estate, vintage costume, Bakelite and Native American jewelry; art pottery and...Read more
Constantine takes his leave of Cheswick auction houseTribune-Review, April 21st
An Art Deco chrome-and-glass smoke stand, topped off with a lighted airplane, should get tobacco lovers fired up, especially when combined with a Bakelite combination radio and humidor. Rolling Rock lives on in the form of several For those who...Read more