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 Cherry Red Amber Bakelite Tank Track Bracelet Hinged Art DecoRare Large Vintage Butterscotch Black Bakelite Carved Art Deco Bracelet ClamperVintage Bakelite Fruit Pin/broochVintage Art Deco Butterscotch Amber Bakelite Bead Necklace 63g 23" Long8 Vintage Carved Rockabilly All Bakelite Tested Bangle Bracelet Huge Set Lot!Top Carved Apple Juice Prystal Bakelite Bangle BraceletArt Deco Vintage Bakelite Egg Yolk Amber Butterscotch Simichrome Concealed ClaspVtg Art Deco Bakelite Spinach Green Mustard Yellow Marbled Swirl Bangle BraceletVintage Deco Cherry Amber Bakelite Long Oval Beads Necklace 47 Grams RethreadAntique Vintage 1920-30's Bakelite Amber Butterscotch Beads Necklace 22'' BalticReverse Carved Chrysanthemum Apple Juice Prystal Bakelite Bangle BraceletArt Deco Bakelite Orange Black Marbled Swirl Octagonal Women's Bangle Bracelet Vintage Art Deco Wide Floral & Leaf Carved Jet Black Bakelite Bracelet Size 8Art Deco Bakelite Beads, Cherry Amber, Tested Bakelite Bead Necklace. Beautiful.Big Vintage Schreiner Marbled Brown Bakelite Turquoise Crystal Rhinestone BroochRare Vintage Apple Juice Bakelite Carved Palm Tree Brooch Pin Movable JointedVintage Chocolate Brown Bakelite Deeply Carved Bangle BraceletVintage Black-red-green-butterscotch Faceted Bakelite Striped Pin 3 1/2" TstdAntique Vintage Cherry Amber Bakelite Beads Necklace 72.3gSensational Vintage Heavy Carved Bakelite Bangle Bracelet Beautiful OnArt Deco Bakelite Beads, Baltic Amber, Tested Bakelite Bead Necklace. Vintage Bakelite And Wood Figural Pin Of Squirrel206.1g Exceptional Art Deco Cherry Amber Faturan Bakelite Prayer Bead NecklaceVintage Bakelite Bangle 'autumn Orange' Carved Design Bracelet: NrArt Deco Vintage Genuine Faceted Cherry Amber Bakelite Beads. Length 22 InchesAntique Vintage Cherry Amber Bakelite Beads Necklace 83.2gAntique Vintage Cherry Amber Bakelite Beads Necklace 66.6gVtg Art Deco Amber Butterscotch Bakelite Oval Round Graduated Beads 86.7 Grams Vintage Bakelite RingVintage Carved Cherry Red Bakelite Bangle BraceletVintage Bakelite Bangle Watch, Runs Good, Hinged Endura 1960-70s, Ladies DressAntique Cherry Red Bakelite Amber Geometric Bead Necklace Vintage Milky 21" OldVintage Cherry Amber Bakelite Bead NecklaceArt Deco Bakelite Beads, Marbled Green/orange, Tested Bakelite Bead Necklace. Vintage Amber Marbleized Hinged Bakelite 3 Ring Bracelet Bangle Tested 9"Nice Antique Vtg Cherry Amber Olive Egg Shape Graduated Beads Necklace Bakelite?Jakob Bengel Chrome & Bakelite NecklaceVintage Cherry Amber Bakelite Necklace Large Beads - 250g - 34"Vintage Faceted And Graduated Cherry Red Amber Bakelite NecklaceVintage Unusual Carved Marbelized Bakelite Bracelet Bangle Tested 10"Vintage Bakelite Red Oval Shaped Pendants Necklace 15" TestedRare Vintage Bakelite Overwash Scotty Dog Wearing Hat Brooch Pin Animal CarvedVintage Opaque Cherry Red Carved Bakelite Bangle W/ Starburst PatternBeautiful Heavy Carved Brown Bakelite Plastic BraceletVintage Art Deco Cherry Amber Bakelite 39 Oval Beads Necklace 65.8 GArt Deco Chrome & Bakelite (galalith) BroochRare Large Vintage Butterscotch Bakelite Deep Carved Flower Bracelet OriginalVintage Art Deco Carved Black Bakelite Bead 17" Graduated NecklaceVintage Bakelite Candy Colors Ring Shaped Pendants Necklace 15" TestedRare Wwii Carved Bakelite Sugar Ration Book Military Patriotic Brooch PinVintage Bakelite Bangle 'cherry Pepper Red' Carved Design Bracelet: NrVintage Red Cherry Bakelite Figural Horse Head Pin Brooch Retro Old Carved 3"wLarge Vintage Carved Bakelite Pin Brooch Female Lady Bust Red Hat Blue EyeshadowRare Vintage Apple Juice Bakelite Rhinestone Carved Flower Leaf Brooch PinLot Of 10 Various Colors & Shapes Carved Marbled Faceted Bakelite BraceletsBakelite Bangle Bracelet Stack Lot 2 Turquoise Coral Butterscotch Octagon!!Vtg Bakelite Bracelet; 5/8" Bamboo Shape; Bold Orange Color; Perfect Fall Color!Wide Carved Luscious Cherry Red Bakelite BraceletFabulous Vintage Art Deco Bakelite? 'bird' Dress ClipVintage Bakelite Figural Pin/brooch Of Bird, Goose

Recent News: Bakelite Costume Jewelry

Source: Google News

Antiques expert: It pays to know
Journal and Courier, October 17th

It will feature glassware, furniture, lighting, jewelry, toys, advertising and more from the 1800s until the 1950s -- encompassing styles such as art deco, arts and crafts and Victorian. Wanat will exhibit Depression era glassware, Victorian furniture...Read more

Gerry Frank's picks: Sausages and schoolhouses
The Oregonian - OregonLive.com, October 16th

Interesting glassware, pottery, porcelain, jewelry, linens, toys, household items, sports gear and memorabilia are displayed in every nook and cranny. If you'd like an explanation of merchandise such as Vaseline or Depression glass, Bakelite, match...Read more

Washington-area obituaries of note
Washington Post, October 15th

She co-authored two books, “The Bakelite Jewelry Book “(1988) and “Victorian Jewelry: Unexplored Treasures” (1991), and was a fashion writer and illustrator at the New Zealand-based fashion magazine Lucire from 2000 to 2008. In a review of the “The ...Read more

Treemont Retirement Community to welcome Antique Pickers Bazaar
Chron.com, October 13th

The answer may become evident as they discover that Grandma's pottery vase, that favorite doll or other vintage toy, and odd pieces of costume jewelry have become collector's items. Who knew that a Trifari pin from the 1950s would be valuable, or that...Read more

Antiques showroom opens in downtown Seymour
CT Post, October 3rd

Sometimes people need something like this to encourage them." One of the major attractions at the store is the 1930s Bakelite jewelry, which sells for anywhere from $100 to $500. "It's like the high end in plastic jewelry," Manillo said. "It's...Read more

Beer Man: Malt is star in wonderful Bull Falls Oktoberfest
Journal and Courier, September 22nd

Bull Falls Oktoberfest, from Bull Falls Brewery in Wausau, Wis., is 5.2 percent ABV. (Photo: Gannett, Todd Haefer/The (Appleton, Wis.) Post-Crescent ). 2 CONNECT 5 TWEETLINKEDINCOMMENTEMAILMORE. I recently sampled about a dozen ...Read more

One simple slicing trick to bake a beautiful tart
Journal and Courier, September 22nd

Antiques dealer John Wanat discusses Bakelite jewelry that would pair well with a '60s fall. Antiques expert: It pays to know. High cost of education apple. Apple Pay Is it the iPhone 6 game-changer? Kim Komando, shown in this undated file photo...Read more

Catalin Bullet radios are choice collectibles
Press of Atlantic City, September 19th

Question: Some years ago, you answered a question about a small Bakelite radio and I hope you can tell me something about mine. It is a rectangular tabletop model with one rounded end and measures 10 1/2 inches wide, 6 inches high and 5 3/4 inches ...Read more