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    

Vintage Art Deco Carved Resin Washed Marbled Bakelite Bangle Bracelet Stack Of 3Vintage 1940's Bakelite Figural Ladies Hand W Bracelet Carved Painted Brooch PinVintage Carved Bakelite Pin Horse, Western Boots & HorseshoeRare Book Piece, From Estate Bakelite Piano Bow Tie Bracelet Sculptured, As IsVintage Carved Butterscotch Bakelite Bangle Bracelets ~ Set Of 3Huge Antique Vtg Art Deco Cherry Amber Bakelite Graduated Necklace 92 GramsIncredible Vintage Bakelite Brooch Pin Butterscotch Horse Head With Red OverdyeIncredible Vintage Bakelite Brooch Pin With 4 Charms/dangles Unusual ShapesVintage Art Deco Long Cherry Amber Bakelite Beads Necklace 95.5g 105cmFabulous Early 20thc Art Deco Cherry Amber Bakelite Bead Necklace - 97 G!Vintage Art Deco Reverse Carved Bakelite Applejuice Wide Bangle Cuff Bracelet Black And Butterscotch Carved Bakelite BracletRare Burgundy Marlowe Parisienne Bakelite Compact Cosmetic BraceletIncredible Vintage Bakelite Brooch Pin Red Flamingo Overlay On Dark Wood A Must!Good Vintage Cherry Amber Bakelite Large Bead NecklaceVintage Art Deco Carved Bakelite Hinged Clamper Bangle Bracelet - TestedAntique Art Deco Red Cherry Amber Bakelite Necklace 142.3 Grams.Antique Deco Fladium Bakelite Photo Locket Bracelet Designer Signed Compact CuffVintage Bakelite Twisted Rope Butterscotch Carved BraceletVintage Wide Chunky Carved Cherry Red Bakelite Bangle Bracelet Excellent! NrAntique Art Deco Cherry Red Amber Bakelite Barrel Shaped Bead Necklace 120 Gr.Antique Vintage Cherry Amber Bakelite Beads Necklace 33.5gZigzag Vintage Bakelite Bracelet Cherry RedRare 1940's Bakelite Greyhounds Racing Dog Overdyed Carved & Painted Brooch PinOriginal Link Of Art Deco Graduated Red Amber/bakelite Beads 71 GramsVintage Rare Reverse Carved Apple Juice Bakelite "fish" Bangle Bracelet Beautiful Rare Vintage 1940's Large Bakelite Red Cherries Brooch/pin-no Res!Cherry Red Bakelite BraceletVintage Art Deco Chunky Carved Dot Overdye Rare Bakelite Bangle Bracelet Tested!Vintage Carved Bakelite Bangle Bracelet, Creamed Corn, Beautiful Patina!1940's Bakelite Horse Head Brass Studs & Chain Brooch Pin Overdyed Resin Washed5/8" Vintage Bakelite Bracelet; "dome" Shape; Bright "tequila Sunrise" Colors!Vintage Art Deco Sunny Bright Orange Bakelite Tested Carved Bangle Bracelet MintLoose Lot Antique Vintage Cherry Amber Bakelite Beads For Necklace 15.1gArt Deco Antique Cherry Amber Red Bakelite Faturan Graduated Bead Necklace 132grVintage Art Deco 9 Cherry Amber Bakelite Beads - 86.2 Grams.Vintage Huge Tested Cherry Red Bakelite Lobster Brooch Estate Nr Rare Nr GreatRare Bakelite Wide Hinged Apple Juice Amber Carved Bangle BraceletVintage Amber Bakelite Dice Block Prayer Cubes Konvolut 527 Gramm Faturan فاتوراAntique Vintage 1930's Blk Carved Leaf & Roses Bakelite Bangle 1 1/2" Thick43 Pcs~ Huge Lot Of Vintage Bakelite Jewelry Brooches Bangle Bracelets EarringsLong 31.5 Inch Antique Bakelite Faux Cherry Red Amber Faturan Bead Necklace Vintage Art Deco Glossy Carved All Bakelite Tested Bangle Bracelet Set Lot Of 3Art Deco Antique Cherry Amber Red Bakelite Faturan Graduated Bead Necklace 112grArt Deco Cherry Amber Bakelite Beads - Gorgeous (33.6 Gm's) - Stunning Art Deco Tested Cherry Amber Bakelite Beads 52.9 GmsVintage Weiss Aqua Bakelite Rhinestone Clamper Bracelet And Earrings SetFantastic Vintage~carved Bakelite Butterscotch Bangle Bracelet~oval~!Vintage Asymmetrical Butterscotch Bakelite Bracelet!! No Reserve Auction!!Vtg Original Cherry Amber Red Bakelite Oblong Bead Necklace 32 Grams 23 InRare Large Black Vintage Carved Bakelite Bangle - TestedVintage Cherry Amber Bakelite Faturan Chunky Bead Necklace 29" Long 120.2 GramsVintage Antique Art Deco 1930's Spring Lamb Early Plastic Bakelite? Pin BroochVintage Art Deco Large Chunky Marbled Green Bakelite Clamper Bangle BraceletVintage Cherry Red Amber Bakelite Barrel Beads & 14k Gold Necklace Unstrung NrRare~vintage 6 Dot Butterscotch & Marbled Green Bakelite Chunky Cuff BraceletVintage Emerald Green Bakelite Deeply Carved Rope Twist Bangle Bracelet~testedVintage Art Deco Carved Bakelite Lucite Tested Runway Bangle Bracelet Set Lot!Lot Of 7 Bakelite Bracelets Antique Genuine Natural Dark Ruby Cherry Amber Bakelite 5 Necklace162+g Lot Nr

Recent News: Bakelite Costume Jewelry

Source: Google News

From street sales at age 8, Alexis Bittar sculpts a jewelry empire
Chicago Tribune, April 3rd

Elements is completely different, much softer and feminine and more stone and more naturally grounded. 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...Read more

Ravenswood Antique Mart Owner: Quality Used to Matter - Not Anymore
DNAinfo, April 2nd

When she died, she left Vlachos a good portion of her jewelry and accessories, several pieces of which are on display behind glass at the Mart. He keeps a framed photo of Drake in the shop — the ... Though the handbag could easily join other Bakelite...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

Button up! Clubs explore the beauty of buttons
The Sheboygan Press, March 31st

Some are made of precious gems, like diamonds, and are as expensive as fine jewelry. "Collecting buttons is ... Then came the Bakelite buttons, which were common in the United States from the 1920s through the 1940s, said Mary Bloczynski of Green Lake...Read more

12 Inventors, Inventions, And Innovations Westchester Can Call Its Own
Westchester Magazine, March 6th

But Bakelite had more aesthetic uses, too. From the time of its invention until the late 1940s, and especially during the Roaring '20s, Bakelite jewelry was extremely popular. In 1939, following years of commercial success, Baekeland retired to sail...Read more

Artful Shopper: Judy's Antiques and Jewelry
The News-Press, February 27th

We have hard to find items like Bakelite, amber and fine jewelry. We have an antique 1900s Christmas tree in the window with vintage Christmas decorations and we keep it up year round. Anything special for Mothers Day? We have a lot of interesting...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