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    

Rare Vintage Art Deco Round Cherry Amber Bakelite Bead NecklaceArt Deco Egyptian Revival Bakelite Flapper Necklace Buddhas Tutankhamun TasselVintage Bakelite Brooch Pin Large Green Leaf With Fruit/veggie Charms So CuteVintage Cherry Bakelite Graduated Bead String 93gramsLot Of Four Vintage Bakelite Bangles Brown Green Marbled Orange & BrownVintage Black / Green Carved Bakelite Rippled Ribbon Clamper Bangle BraceletVintage Bakelite Custard Dangle Pin Brooch The Gingham Dog And Calico CatGorgeous Art Deco Rhinestone & Bakelite Brooch Lot Of 22 Stunning Bakelite Bracelets Bangles, Assortment Of Colors & Sizes!Art Deco Cherry Amber Tested Bakelite Beads 43 GramsVintage Art Deco Expansion Bracelet W/ BakeliteEtched 1940 Cut Out Cherry Red Vintage Deco Bakelite Wide Carved Bangel BraceletVintage Lot 4 Bakelite Bangle Bracelets All Carved Cherry Amber Olive ChocolateVintage Carved Bracelet-bakelite?red-flowers-bangle-nr!Antique Victorian Gilt Metal Coral Bakelite Hand BroochVintage Wide Tropical Leaf Carved Bakelite Bangle Bracelet Signed Weiss Orange Red Bakelite Celluloid Rhinestones Embedded Hinged BraceletVintge Carved Green & Yellow Apple Juice Bakelite Daisy Flower Pin Brooch ~ Wow!Art Deco Cherry Amber Bakelite 65.7g Bead Necklace Prayer Red Tested VintageAntique Art Deco Cherry Amber Bakelite Worry Beads Over The Top Deeply Carved Lily Pad Brown Bakelite Clamper BraceletNice Vintage Chevron & Dot Carved Butterscotch Bangle Bracelet ~ Take A Look!French Vintage Galalith Bakelite Ivory Cream Carved Bangle Bracelet ElephantMatching Bracelet & Brooch/pin, Black Bakelite With Shell Pattern Under DomeVintage Cream Weiss Bakelite Rhintestone Clamper Bracelet & Earrings Celluloid 4 Butterscotch Forest Green Rhinestone 2-1/2" Diameter Bakelite Bangle BraceletsVintage Antique Bakelite Bracelet Lot Bangle Cuff Amber Tone Encased Swirl! 6051Vintage Deeply Carved Bakelite Dress Clips Pin Lot-red, Butterscotch, Choclate.Vintage 1930s Bakelite Bangle Bracelet Art Deco Carved Green TestedArt Deco Cherry Amber Bakelite Necklace Antique Vntage 1930 Vintage Bakelite Tested Rare Yellow Overdye Bangle Bracelet - Intl Shipping Now Nice Autumn Trio Of Vintage Carved Bakelite Bangle BraceletsVtg Lucite Plastic Bakelite 1950 Retro Necklace Red Cherry Cherries Green LeavesVintage Art Deco Coiled Snake Bakelite Bangle Bracelet 65mm Diameter B49Super Wide Root Beer Brown Swirl Carved Leaf Bakelite Bangle Bracelet ~ Wow Wee!Vintage Chunky Reverse Carved Apple Juice Bakelite Hinged Cuff Bracelet - Nice!!Vintage Art Deco Cherry Amber Bakelite Beads Necklace Cubes Squares SimichromeChunky Gaudy Marbled Chocolate Sundae Bakelite Bangle Bracelet2 Butterscotch Black Carved Rhinestone 2-1/4" Maiden Bakelite Bangle Bracelets'butterscotch' Bakelite Antique Horse-head Mare Pony With Gear 3" Vtg Brooch PinDeco Look Fan Carved Resin Washed Marbled Paprika Red Bakelite Bangle BraceletPr. Of Banded Laminated Bakelite & Wood Bangle BraceletsVintage Forest Green Marbled Wide Bakelite Bangle Bracelet TestedAwesome Xtra Wide Bakelite Bracelet; Rare "blue Moon" Color; One Of A Kind!!! Vintage Bakelite Mulit Color Geometric Disk Brooch Pin Very UniqueVintage Pumpkin Orange Bakelite Dot Bangle Bracelet Gorgeous Vintage Chunky Paprika Tested Bakelite Bracelet! Oj244Bakelite Antique Art Deco Vintage Sash Brooch Belt Buckle Carved Flower! 3437Chunky Deco Look Deeply Carved Luscious Cherry Marbled Bakelite Bangle BraceletVintage Bakelite & Lucite Brooch Pin Hanging Heart Charm - Take A LookVintage Cardinal Mah Jong Set Pink Catalin Lucite Bakelite 152 Tri Color TilesBakelite Carrot Clip Pin Vintage Jewlery Made In UsaVintage Rootbeer Bakelite Bangle Bangle Lot Of 2 Vintage Bakelite Brooch Pin Butterscotch Bow With Overdyed Polka DotsVintage Antique Bakelite Bracelet Lot Bangle Cuff Butterscotch Dye Swirl! 6054Vintage Bakelite Hinge Bangle Bracelet - Carved Leaves - Wide Clamper Vintage Carved Butterscotch Bakelite & Inlaid Metal Bangle Bracelet For "mmc"Fine Vintage Art Deco Cherry Amber Bakelite NecklaceArt Deco Chrome Plated Bakelite? NecklaceLot Of 3 - Vintage Bakelite Marbled Bangle Bracelet - Green, Cherry Red, Orange

Recent News: Bakelite Costume Jewelry

Source: Google News

Manufacturers' Monthly Material of the Month part 1: Bakelite
Manufacturers' Monthly, September 11th

“Electrical insulation and lighting was always a standard in bakelite originally. There's also still a strong market in Bakelite jewelry.” At the time of writing, a search of “Bakelite” brought up 1,899 matches in eBay's Australian site, with jewellery...Read more

Notes on 'Scandal': A Costume Designer Dishes on Olivia Pope, Jewelry, and ...
JCK (blog), September 8th

And there's so much jewelry today: fine, fashion, costume. We write about that mix a lot. Do you see that, too? LP: I see it, but I actually don't do it. I like things to be one tone. I have a huge collection of resin bracelets and a huge collection of...Read more

Alternatives to Brimfield Antique Show
Boston Globe, September 5th

Like a five-story tag sale, the Cambridge Antique Market is the ideal Brimfield alternative for anyone seeking kitschy kitchen accessories, quirky home decor, retro costume jewels — or basically anything made of Bakelite. Menotomy Used Bicycles is...Read more

The Week in Healdsburg: August 24-31
Santa Rosa Press Democrat, August 23rd

“The park will be filled with an eclectic mix of folk art, sterling silver, country furniture, Bakelite and vintage jewelry, Persian rugs, art pottery, antique prints and maps, vintage posters, postcards, toys, garden art, accessories and decorative...Read more

Moving to a Smaller Home, and Decluttering a Lifetime of Belongings
New York Times, August 22nd

But the value of valuables can be cyclical, warned Ms. Sherlock, who noted that 1950s and mid-modern furniture “is hot, and so is Bakelite jewelry, but something else that people love may just not be popular. A lot of younger people just don't want to...Read more

The Week in Healdsburg: August 17-24
Santa Rosa Press Democrat, August 16th

“The park will be filled with an eclectic mix of folk art, sterling silver, country furniture, Bakelite and vintage jewelry, Persian rugs, art pottery, antique prints and maps, vintage posters, postcards, toys, garden art, accessories and decorative...Read more