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]

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]

Modernism

Modernism

This archived overview produced by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts offers thumbnail sketches of the design moveme… [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    

Rare Vintage Machine Age Art Deco Chrome & Teal Bakelite Belt6 Vintage Art Deco Big Daisy Carved All Bakelite Tested Bangle Bracelet Set Lot!Fabulous Red Bakelite & Chrome Art Deco Geometric Machine Age NecklaceEstate Vintage Deeply Carved Ornate Oriental Red Bakelite Bangle BraceletRare Vintage Art Deco Carved Cherry Red Bakelite Terrier Dog BroochVintage Bakelite Brooch Pin Butterscotch Dog With Overdye Elegant GreyhoundArt Deco 44" Graduated Size Bakelite Cherry Amber Red Bead Necklace 68.9 GramsStunning Art Deco Cherry Red Amber Bakelite Beads With Inclusions - Very RareVintage Tested Bakelite Bangle Bracelet Marbled Red With 6 Yellow DotsVintage Art Deco Red Bakelite Buckle Bracelet Ex!Big Rare Vintage Ethnic Tribal Cherry Amber Bakelite Barrel Bead Necklace Vintage Oriental Red White Butterscotch Deep Carved Bakelite Bangle BraceletArt Deco_ Bracelet_"volex"_made In England_jean Painleve_seahorse_bakelite BlackArt Deco Bakelite French Cicada Beetle Bug Insect Antique Brooch CelluloidAntique Art Deco Cherry Amber Bakelite Style Large Barrel Bead NecklaceAntique Art Deco Cherry Amber Bakelite Bead Strand 71 Gr.Vintage Bakelite Brooch Pin Butterscotch Leaf With Overdye & Orange DanglesVintage Art Deco Cherry Amber Bakelite Beads Necklace 35.7g 44cmStunning Art Deco Tested Cherry Amber Bakelite Beads Necklace 62.6 Gms7 Vintage Art Deco Big Daisy Carved All Bakelite Tested Bangle Bracelet Set Lot!Gorgeous Bakelite Bangle Bracelet Applejuice & Marbled ButterscotchVintage Butterscotch Bakelite Bangle Bracelet Exquisite - A MustRare Breathtaking Vintage 1920's Art Deco 409 Tested Bakelite Brooch Mint! G1879Antique C1920art Deco Cherry Amber Bakelite Graduatng Beads For Spares 55.7 GmsVintage Art Deco Cherry Amber Bakelite Bead NecklaceBakelite Bracelet Pair Vintage Deeply Carved Tribal Chocolate Brown BangleVintage Layered Bakelite Bangle Bracelet Olive-butterscotch-cherry-brownRare Huge Red Bracelet And Bakelite Bangle LotOld Bakelite Bead Necklace Toffee Colour Like Antique Amber Simichrome TestedSet Of 2 Chunky Swirl Carved Bakelite Bangle Bracelets Butterscotch 1/2"w TestedRare Vintage Octagon Shape Toffee Chunky Bakelite Bangle Bracelet Tested RetroVery Large Cherry Amber/bakelite Bead 1 1/4 X 1 Inch In Size 15.8 Grams Deco1920s/30s Art Deco Cherry Amber Bakelite Necklace Beads - 38g Antique Cherry Amber Bakelite Necklace Loose Beads....68g Simichrome TestedSuperb Art Deco Era Bakelite / Cherry Amber & Jade Brooch. ?..bernard Instone..?Carved Bakelite Lady's Figural Hand With Corsage Brooch PinNice Bakelite Bracelet Pair Vintage Deeply Carved Floral Chocolate Brown BangleVtg Bakelite Bangle Lot 5 Marbled Bracelets Stack Spacers TestedAntique Art Deco Red Cherry Amber Bakelite Bead Necklace 52.3 Grams Total WeightVintage Green Carved Bakelite BangleVintage Jewellery Fabulous Large Multi Coloured Bakelite Flower ButtonsArt Deco Cherry Red Amber/bakelite Bead Necklace 56 Grams 28 Inches 59 BeadsVtg Bakelite Bangle Bracelet Heavy Carved Practice Piece Rare Find Tested! NrVintage Yellow Bakelite Bracelet. Carved Bakelite. Yellow Flowers. TestedAntique Vintage Rare Art Deco Faux Honey Sherry Amber Bakelite Beads Necklace UkAntique Bakelite / Cherry Amber Oval Bead Necklace C1900 $1 No ReserveVintage Bakelite End Of Day Bangle Bracelet 1" Wide Green & Yellow MarbledVintage Cherry Amber Graduated Bakelite BeadsVintage Plastic Carved Bakelite Pin Wading Bird Egret Heron 2.5x2"Vintage Bakelite Pin Large Pin Brooch Red Rose Carved Genuine Bakelite Vtg Reverse Carved Hand Painted Flower Applejuice Bakelite Wide Bangle BraceletVintage Yellow Bakelite Royal Dynasty 17 Jewel Clamper Bracelet WatchAntique Cherry Amber Bakelite Necklace Loose Beads....45g Simichrome TestedVintage 3d Rare Retro Carved Bakelite Caramel Circles Dangle Brooch PinVtg. Art Deco 1930's/ 40's, Bakelite, Wide Cuff Bracelet, Applejuice BakeliteVintage Butterscotch Bakelite Bangle BraceletVintage Art Deco Cherry Amber Bakelite Faturan Bead Necklace 138.96 Gms Wow! Vintage Bakelite Brooch Pin Asian Man - Rice Paddy Worker - Amazing!Art Deco Red Cherry Amber Bakelite Silver Necklace. Lot 4Vintage Carved Olive Green Bakelite Bangle Bracelet

Recent News: Bakelite Costume Jewelry

Source: Google News

Holy Grail Vintage
Austin Monthly, May 16th

Her first collection was Bakelite jewelry and her most recent passion is Outsider Art sculptures and busts. Jennifer was a founding member of the Austin Craft Mafia and the woman behind Naughty Secretary Club jewelry. For Jennifer you can expect unique ...Read more

The Late Albert Maysles' Iris Embraces the Creative Life
Dallas Observer, May 13th

Iris Apfel isn't exactly a household name, unless we're talking about very stylish households. From 1950 to 1992 Apfel ran Old World Weavers, the business she co-founded with her husband, Carl, which faithfully re-created antique textiles for use in...Read more

Alliston Historical Society explores world of antiques
Simcoe.com, May 10th

A jewelry loop is used to magnify the symbols and markings on the inside of rings and bracelets, scales are used to weigh metal. Real pearls feel slightly gritty to teeth and tongue. Bakelite (a synthetic resin) used to make bracelets and buttons has a...Read more

Iris Apfel, fashion icon
LA Weekly, April 29th

Iris Apfel isn't exactly a household name, unless we're talking about very stylish households. From 1950 to 1992 Apfel ran Old World Weavers, the business she co-founded with her husband, Carl, which faithfully re-created antique textiles for use in...Read more

Albert Maysles Goes Out in Style With Iris
Westword, April 28th

She also sells a line of costume jewelry on the Home Shopping Network. Apfel sometimes packs more into a day than younger, sturdier souls might attempt in a week, and people who care about fashion adore her at least partly for her classic New York ...Read more

Darling of sci-fi movies, Alexis Bittar went from street sales to sculpt a ...
Waterbury Republican American, April 27th

Lucite is futuristic, and I liked the material; I used what was done with Bakelite in the '30s, where they hand sculpted it. Because Lucite is clear, I like the idea of treating the material as an art medium that can be sculpted to anything you want...Read more

De-Stash Bash - Arts and Crafts Garage Sale
Austin Monthly, April 25th

My name is Jennifer Perkins and once upon a time I was in Austin Woman when I ran a jewelry company called The Naughty Secretary Club and was part of the Austin Craft Mafia. I am hosting a De-Stash Bash at the TOMS Shoes on S. Congress ... the country...Read more

Alexis Bittar Marks Major Milestone With One-of-a-Kind Collection
Elle (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