When Was Bakelite Jewelry Popular?- Interesting History

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You’ve probably heard about Bakelite jewelry, but can you concisely say that you really know about this type of jewelry?

Well, this article shares insights on everything you should know about Bakelite jewelry and its popularity.

The best description for Bakelite jewelry is Coco Chanel’s infamous bangles, representing the first type of high-end plastic jewelry.

And today, this type of jewelry falls in the collectibles kind of jewelry that was quite popular during the art deco period.


About Bakelite jewelry

When Was Bakelite Jewelry Popular

You can think of Bakelite jewelry as a unique type of plastic jewelry. This is a style of jewelry that was patented in 1909 by Leo Baekeland.

But Bakelite is not your normal kind of plastic jewelry; the jewelry is made of Bakelite, a special blend of plastic polymers made of formaldehyde and phenols; according to experts, it is a kind of collector’s items that can be valuable. Bakelite jewelry stands out because this jewelry will give off a unique Bakelite smell when you immerse the jewelry in hot water.

The jewelry is often manufactured in blocks, in a handcrafted style. Often, the jewelry features visible tool markings, which means the jewelry is designed to look like ivory, more than the machined resin jewelry that is seen on the market today.


What is special about Bakelite jewelry?

When Was Bakelite Jewelry Popular

The most notable thing about bakelite jewelry is the fact that the jewelry comes in different colors, and it is made of a unique plastic material that cannot be burned or melted, even at very high temperatures, with the only catch being the fact that it emits a strong smell at high temperatures.

It is also known as Catalin, given the change in ownership of Bakelite’s patent.

Bakelite jewelry was popularized by the fact that the jewelry was sold by Coco Chanel. It is created from a blend of formaldehyde and phenols, which are then put in molds, forming rods that will then be polished before transforming into jewelry.

When Was Bakelite Jewelry Popular

The bakelite’s creation process is different from that of plastic because of the bakelite’s hard finishing. The plastic jewelry, on the other hand, is paired into intricate, pre-made molds.

Bakelite has to be polished and hand-crafted for the final jewelry designs. So, with all the work that goes into the jewelry, it makes sense that the jewelry is expensive and valuable.

Today, some of the materials that are similar to bakelite are lucite and celluloid.


When was Bakelite jewelry popular?

When Was Bakelite Jewelry Popular

While some people note that Coco Chanel introduced Bakelite jewelry after they introduced the style back in the 1920s, others note that this jewelry style may not have been created by Coco Chanel but by another jewelry designer.

One of the pieces uncovered in the 1980s was sold for thousands and featured a green-orange crosshatch inlaid pattern. Even so, bakelite jewelry is believed to have been popular between the 1920s and 1940s. At the time, the jewelry style was the rage, especially before cheaper plastic materials replaced it.

When Was Bakelite Jewelry Popular

And thanks to the use of bakelite by Chanel, this turned into the most elegant expression of the bakelite material. While bakelite is stunning and lasts long, it is not shatterproof, and the fact that the material can easily shatter means that you cannot find many varieties of bakelite.

It is also why Chanel bakelite is extremely rare today and why the few pieces available today are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.


History of Bakelite jewelry

When Was Bakelite Jewelry Popular

Bakelite jewelry is believed to have been designed during the Art Déco period between 1909 and lasted up to the 1940s. Bakelite jewelry was a form of costume jewelry, and it offered the best way for anyone to dress up their outfits without breaking the bank.

This jewelry style was developed by Dr. Leo Bakeland early in the 1900s, after his discovery of the fact that bakelite cools off quickly, but it wouldn’t melt, even at very high temperatures.

After successfully creating the materials, Dr. Bakeland took out the patent for the bakelite jewelry idea in 1907. He curated the material so that it would have a very high melting point so that it would remain stable for a long time.

When Was Bakelite Jewelry Popular

After the melting point of bakelite was reached, he poured the material into sheets and molds, which he then used to make different pieces that were curated into jewelry.

Besides jewelry, bakelite was also used for toys and electronic parts. Initially, he didn’t intend for the material used in jewelry making to be as expensive, but with the start of  World War II early in the 1940s and with companies closing down, hence the end of bakelite manufacturing, things slowed down, and there was minimal bakelite available.

And by the end of the world war, there were several new technologies and types of plastics, all of which resulted in Bakelite becoming obsolete. So, the height of the popularity of Bakelite jewelry was mainly late in the 1930s, and it lasted until the end of the Art Deco period.

When Was Bakelite Jewelry Popular

During the time, the jewelry style was quite popular in many large stores like Roebuck and Sears. And some of the biggest brands that made Bakelite jewelry were Van Cleef & Arpel and Chanel.

At the time, the most common colors of bakelite jewelry were brown, red, green, and also white. The white parts of the bakelite jewelry change over time, however, with exposure to air and light, meaning that the white sections would eventually turn brown.

An interesting thing about Bakelite’s patent by Dr. Bakeland is the fact that he allowed Bakelite’s patent to expire. It was thereafter purchased by the Catalin Corporation, which started making their own Bakelite jewelry sold under the brand name, Bakelite-Catalin.

When Was Bakelite Jewelry Popular

These pieces would be sold off in some expensive stores, such as  Saks Fifth Avenue and Woolworths, among others.

Interestingly, the pieces of vintage bakelite from the 30s and 40s were all unsigned, although there is a distinct cachet from the different names attached to the jewelry.


Are Bakelite jewelry still popular nowadays?

When Was Bakelite Jewelry Popular

Today, bakelite jewelry is hard to come by, and they often feature polka dots, with multiple colors that are laminated together, and also in the form of ultra-cool figural pins.

The ‘new’ bakelite, on the other hand, is made of reproductions and features different things that are blended into small and large pieces.

However, most of them are made of alternative materials like celluloid and lucite, which are plastics whose features resemble bakelite.



Bakelite jewelry is one of the oldest materials produced and used to make jewelry, among other plastic materials like toys. The most common types of bakelite jewelry include bakelite beads, bracelets, rings, and necklaces.

The jewelry style was quite popular during the Art Deco period and lasted until the 1940s. Afterward, the jewelry started disappearing because of WWII and the fact that companies started producing bakelite.

In the 1920s, the jewelry was popularized by Coco Chanel’s adoption of bakelite jewelry. Unfortunately, there are very few vintage pieces made of Bakelite because many of them were lost; also, bakelite is quite fragile, and it cracks/ shatters under pressure.

Today, most bakelite jewelry on the market is made of alternative materials like Lucite.

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