There is no doubt that one of the most sought-after types of jewelry from the Art Deco period is Bakelite jewelry.
But do you know what the jewelry is, the value of the jewelry, what it’s worth, or even how the jewelry came to be?
This article is a comprehensive guide for everything you know about Bakelite jewelry.
History of Bakelite Jewelry
Bakelite jewelry is one of the most popular styles of jewelry from the Art Deco period in the 1920s, and this kind of jewelry is now a trendy style of antique or vintage jewelry.
Baekeland jewelry was created much earlier in 1907, which qualifies the jewelry style as antique.
While it was invented in 1907, it wasn’t until much later that the jewelry would be produced, which is why most people collecting it now refer to the old pieces of Bakelite jewelry as vintage pieces – they were popular in the 1930s.
Jewelry from this period is considered vintage, which is why Bakelite jewelry is often regarded as vintage.
While the jewelry was not as popular soon after its invention, this invention was a rather huge deal, with the inventor of this material, Leo, appearing on the cover of Time Magazine in 1924 (September 22nd).
During the interviews and when he was featured in the magazine, it was discovered that Leo’s discovery happened almost accidentally. This invention turned out to form one of the most valuable materials ever created.
His creation, Bakelite, also called Baekelite, formed a type of plastic made of phenols and formaldehyde. Soon after the discovery, Bakelite became the material used for different items, not just jewelry.
Bakelite was used for toothbrush handles, cigarette holders, bookcases, and toys, among others.
In addition to phenols and formaldehyde, Bakelite is also made of carbonic acid and an alkali catalyst. And thanks to these materials incorporated into the plastic, Bakelite was a plastic-type whose qualities were pretty much unheard of.
Some features that made Bakelite stand out include the fact that this plastic was resistant to electricity and heat. These qualities made it ideal for use as an insulating material.
Soon after its creation, it became the most popular type of plastic, boasting multiple-use, and it was a critical plastic from the Plastic Age.
Bakelite was quite popular, but unlike other plastics, it had no mold marks or seams. You may argue that Lucite doesn’t have these marks either, and it even weighs less than Bakelite, but Bakelite still was the superior plastic, thanks to its heavy and density.
It is also worth noting that it wasn’t until the 1920s that the more colorful Bakelite jewelry options were created, which also meant that Bakelite jewelry was the perfect type and style of jewelry production.
Bakelite jewelry then came of age after being promoted widely by prominent jewelry and fashion designers, including Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli (she later worked for Tiffany & Co.).
After the jewelry was featured in Vogue magazine. Notably, Bakelite jewelry pieces by these designers didn’t come cheap, meaning that as much as they were marketed as costume jewelry, these brands sold them as designer brands, which meant they didn’t come cheap.
However, the fact that the jewelry made of cheap materials was recognized by the big designers meant that they respected the plastics, and it also meant that pretty much everyone wanted a piece of this jewelry style.
Bakelite remains a historically important material because it can be molded into any imaginable shape. As mentioned above, it was a critical material used in jewelry in the Art Deco period.
Bakelite jewelry was mainly carved out of matte and opaque materials. As the jewelry styles from the era demanded, the jewelry featured geometric patterns and styles and clean lines.
It’s worth noting that the Art Deco period coincided with the Great Depression, a time that most people across the country didn’t have much disposable income, meaning that they didn’t spend as much money on fine jewelry, and this made Bakelite jewelry a popular style of jewelry from the time.
Bakelite jewelry was quite affordable, and thanks to the bold and solid colors, this jewelry style allowed women from the time to wear stunning jewelry that would let them easily show off their style preferences and personality.
By early in the 1930s, the production of Bakelite jewelry was in full force, with industries producing them en-masse, which meant that pretty much everyone wore them.
Most jewelry options include matching sets of earrings, necklaces, rings, and bracelets, all in matching colors.
Other varieties of Bakelite jewelry from the tike include pins, bangles, brooches, hair ornaments, and dress clips that women of pretty much all ages wore. Away from jewelry, the other kinds of Bakelite items made included crib toys.
At the start of World War II and earlier in the 1940s, most of the production of Bakelite jewelry because all efforts were directed to the war and survival.
In Europe, Bakelite jewelry came into the scene in the 1920s, and it stuck for a while. Most of the European Bakelite jewelry styles featured plastic jewelry varieties in much more subdued colors, all based on the design of the pieces.
The first Bakelite plastic varieties in Europe were displayed at the Paris exhibition in 1925 by interior designers like Paul Poiret. One of the infamous pieces is the Lalique, as well as the silver Puiforçat.
Other than the Parisians, the French create elegant and discreet jewelry designs, all utilizing the geometric and perfectly shaped Art Deco Motifs that bore their origins in the Aztec, Egyptian, and African cultures.
Around the same time, German designers developed more intricate pieces whose designs were influenced by austere Bauhaus aesthetics.
Most of the European pieces made of Bakelite featured a combination of materials ranging from pure Bakelite to others made of Bakelite combined with metal and wood, resulting in highly articulated pieces such as hinged bracelets and even vehicle grilles.
About the Bakelite Jewelry Colors
Most pieces of Bakelite jewelry are available in the colors red, yellow, green, blue, brown, white, and black.
The white pieces have changed color over time because Bakelite changes color when exposed to the air thanks to the chemicals in Bakelite.
Other types of Bakelite jewelry were blue-toned, but they have now turned green, while the white ones are now yellowish-brown.
There were also translucent pieces and many others in transparent red.
Different types and Styles of Bakelite Jewelry
Common Bakelite jewelry types include necklaces, bracelets, pins and brooches, Bakelite lockets, rings, and earrings.
While a variety of these types of Bakelite jewelry were plain, many others were designed in different shapes and geometric shapes, and they came in any shape imaginable.
Bakelite jewelry Test
For starters, real Bakelite jewelry features a characteristic scent; more specifically, they have a formaldehyde smell which would mean that the jewelry has a smell almost similar to what you smell in the morgue.
Heat Testing for Bakelite
You could also test for Bakelite by exposing the material to heat. When you do this, Bakelite gives off a characteristic formaldehyde smell.
Just be careful not to touch the Bakelite directly on something very hot, and don’t expose the Bakelite jewelry piece to a direct flame.
Instead, you should run the items in a sealed piece under hot water (running) for about 30 seconds, preferably in a sealed bag.
Use a hairdryer for pieces with stones, strings, metal, or more delicate detailing.
Hot water test – you can test Bakelite by putting the plastic material in hot water for some time. Generally, exposing Bakelite to hot water will create a unique type of smell. Bakelite has a camphor smell.
Chemical test for Bakelite
Test the material with Simichrome – the other test for accurately and easily identifying Bakelite is testing the jewelry or the Bakelite item using a specific cleaner for Bakelite because it behaves in a specific way towards this cleaning material.
All you need is a small amount of the Simichrome polish on a cotton swab or white rag.
Rub this polish on the test piece at an inconspicuous spot, and let it sit for about 30 seconds.
After, look at the cleaning material you’ve selected, and if the rag has a yellow or ivory smear on it, the item is most certainly made of Bakelite.
About the values of Bakelite jewelry
Despite being made of plastic, Bakelite jewelry is worth some money, and most pieces are often sold for a maximum of $100.
However, pieces with more elaborate details and multiple colors often sell for a few hundred or thousands of dollars.
On the other hand, single pieces without embellishments often cost about $30, and the process may go as high as $50.
What Factors Affecting Bakelite jewelry Values
Common factors that affect the value of the Bakelite jewelry include:
- Jewelry design
- The vintage charm of the jewelry
- The condition of the Bakelite jewelry
- The rarity of the colors of the Bakelite jewelry pieces
Pros and cons of Bakelite Jewelry
- Bakelite vintage jewelry is valuable
- This type of jewelry boasts a vintage charm that’s kept the pieces valuable for a long time.
- Most of the vintage pieces come in stunning and rare colors
- Bakelite jewelry is available in different styles and designs
- Chipped and cracked pieces aren’t worth much
- Bakelite jewelry is fragile
Is It Safe To Wear Bakelite Jewelry?
Yes, Bakelite jewelry is quite safe to wear, and you can have the jewelry for long, as long you take good care of the jewelry pieces.
Bakelite jewelry is soft but easily damaged, and you must remember when buying and wearing jewelry made of Bakelite.
If you are interested in Bakelite jewelry, you will be happy to know that the jewelry is valuable; it boasts a rich history and would be a great kind of collectors’ jewelry to invest in.
Stephanie is a jewelry lover when she was a teenager. Her major was fashion design when she was in college. She is a jewelry designer at SOQ Jewelry and other design companies. Now she is also a writer for our website. She writes a lot of designs&brands posts with very actionable tips.