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    

Vtg Reverse Carved Flower Apple Juice Transparent Bakelite Bangle Bracelet1930s Bakelite Very Rare Orange Deeply Carved Rose& Leaves Design Wide BangleArt Deco Antique Cherry Amber Red Bakelite Faturan Bead Necklace 173grVintage Philadelphia Style Bakelite Clamper Bangle BraceletAntique Vintage Art Deco Hand Carved Fish Apple Juice Bakelite Pin BroochButterscotch Amber Bakelite Beads Knotted Old Antique String Necklace Vintage Art Deco Bakelite Rhinestone Celluloid Hatpin Stick Pin Ornament Lot 8Vintage Cherry Amber Bakelite Bead 55g NecklaceVintage Cherry Amber Bakelite Necklace - 75 GrEarly 20th Century Art Deco Cherry Amber Bakelite Necklace, 9 Ct Gold ClaspArt Deco 1920-1930 Antique Cherry Amber Red Bakelite Bead Necklace 98grBakelite Butterscotch Hinged Clamper BraceletVintage Art Deco Dark Amber Mustard Bakelite Brooch Hand Carved Stork Heron BirdBreathtaking Large Vintage Beaded Cherry Bakelite Amber Necklace Needs Clasp Vintage Great 1 1/2" Wide Butterscotch Bakelite Bangle BraceletVintage 61g Cherry Amber Bakelite Bead Beads For Necklace Or Craft Lot Of 4 Vintage Bakelite Bangles Green Butterscotch MarbledVery Rare Amber Bakelite Tested Fox Pin Brooch Bracelet Moving Articulating HeadAntique Orange Yellow Womens Bakelite Necklace Of Graduated BeadsArt Deco Bakelite Cherry Amber Necklace Simichrome Tested 27inches Long. 64grm.Vtg Rare Marlowe Parisienne Bakelite Bracelet Bangle Cosmetic Compact Deco Exc! Vintage Spinach Green Wavy Octagon Bakelite Bangle Bracelet Lot 4Vtg Antique Art Deco Brooch Pin Carved Bakelite ? Black Plastic ElephantVtg Estate Art Deco Yellow Butterscotch Carved Floral Bakelite Bangle BraceletWeiss Florenza Austria Denicola Trifari Marvella Napier Mandle Bakelite Big LotAntique *cherry Amber Bakelite Faturan Komboloi Prayer Necklace* 50.1 Grms3 Vintage Sunshine Clear Injected Ball Dot Bakelite Lucite Era Bangle Bracelets!Vintage Bakelite Carved Pin Bakelite Double Dachshund Dog Pin Brooch Tested Vintage Art Deco Wine & Custard Heavily Marbled Bakelite Tested Bangle Bracelet!Bakelite Bracelets Lot Of 6Vintage Art Deco Figural Pin Brooch *flapper Gal Walking Dog* Bakelite Rarest Art Deco Bakelite Translucent Large Dangle Beads Necklace & Bracelet SetVintage Art Deco Orange Black Bakelite Polk A Dot Disco Link BraceletAntique C1920 Art Deco Facetted Cherry Amber Bakelite Bead Necklace 80.6 GramsDeco Cherry Amber Bakelite Necklace With 17" Drop And 61 Beads From 1920'sVintage Bakelite Bracelets Necklace Beads Napkin RingsVintage Art Deco Chunky Jet Black & Gold Marbled Bakelite Tested Bangle BraceletCool Vintage Green & Brown Stripes Stripe Bakelite Bracelet Bangle Retro Mod NrAntique Art Deco Loose Marbled Cherry Amber Bakelite 5beads For Necklace-28.6gGreen Bakelite BraceletAntique Old Faturan Red Cherry Amber Graduated Bead Necklace 79gArt Deco Antique Cherry Amber Red Bakelite Faturan Bead Necklace 133gr8 Vintage Art Deco Sweet Stack Carved All Bakelite Tested Bangle Bracelet Lot!Rare Rare Vintage Bakelite Enamel Chinese Lanterns Brooch - PinVintage Bakelite Bead Imam Old Antique Worry Beads No Faturan No Cherry AmberVintage Rockabilly Cherry Red Lucite Zig Zag Bakelite Era Bangle Bracelet -mint!Vintage Art Deco Tiffany Blue Green Brown Bakelite Tested Bangle Bracelet Mint!Art Deco Red Cherry Amber Bakelite Bead Necklace - 62 GramsLovely Vintage Art Deco Cherry Amber Bakelite Necklace 63.4 GramsAntique Vintage Cherry Amber Bakelite Beads Necklace 71grms TestedVintage 40s Large Galloping Horse Carved Bakelite Brooch Pin2 Vintage Carved Dark Amber & Pumpkin Bakelite Bangle BraceletsGreat Black Carved Bakelite Bangle BraceletVintage Bakelite 6 Polka Dot Root Beer & Cream Pair Bangle BraceletsVintage Art Deco Cherry Amber Bakelite Chunky Faceted Bead Necklace - 64gCherry Amber Bakelite Bird 177gr Antique Art Deco Cherry Amber Bakelite NecklaceBakelite Butterscotch Deep Carved Slant Bracelet From Private CollectionVintage Art Deco Green Bakelite Rhinestone Pendant 14k Chain NecklaceGold Colored Bakelite Bracelet

Recent News: Bakelite Costume Jewelry

Source: Google News

Gone Tiki: Aloha Fashion Through The Ages
Houstonia Magazine, July 24th

Any kind of jewelry made of Bakelite. Men. Bowling- or guayabera-inspired button-up shirts. Remember, we were still friends with Cuba in the 1950s. Pair a guayabera with linen pants for a cool summer look. For men, the 1950s look was slightly more...Read more

A stylish find that can't be beat
Palm Beach Post, July 11th

The cherry red and caramel Bakelite handles must have been positively futuristic to the 1930s cook who used these to beat eggs and whip cream, all as part of the day to day in a world in which there were few pre-packaged products, such as mayonnaise in...Read more

Williamsburg exhibit reviews folk jewelry spawned by the Great Depression
Daily Press, July 11th

Born in the late 1920s, Thunderbird jewelry was partly a response to the increasing cost and scarcity of such traditional materials as shell and jet — and partly a response to seeing the new yet inexpensive Bakelite jewelry worn by so many visitors in...Read more

Fine Art & Antiques | Appraisal events reveal great finds
Centre Daily Times, July 4th

Value: $5,000. Grand Island, Neb.: Tanner, age 5, brought his grandmother's 1930s-era Bakelite pin in the shape of a squirrel to my event for an appraisal. ... The not-so-scary value of that piece of costume jewelry was $275. Fort Wayne, Ind.: A pair...Read more

Belle Kogan, Godmother of American Industrial Design
Core77.com, May 26th

She was also acknowledged as an early adopter of prewar plastics, using them in designs for celluloid toilet sets and clocks, and in Bakelite jewelry. Kogan's Quacker electric alarm clock, designed for Telechron Company in 1934. The case is made of ...Read more

Alexis Bittar's Material World
Metropolis Magazine, April 1st

“It was counterintuitive,” Bittar says of his decision to fuse the ideology of Bakelite jewelry (which he'd already experimented with) and the applications of Lalique glass. “But I always wanted to explore new materials.” The bold, color-centric...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

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

Somehow, Wanat spotted Bakelite — an early plastic resin now-turned-collectible costume jewelry that peaked in popularity during the 1930s and '40s — in a locked glass case near a fur-trimmed vintage jacket that had the jaunty '60s imprint of former...Read more