For decades, lovers of bold-colored non-metallic costume jewelry have been raving about the type of jewelry called Bakelite jewelry, a style of ornamentation that is known for its versatility, rich history, and to others, relatively affordable jewelry.
But there isn’t much Bakelite jewelry on the market today, especially not the original varieties of Bakelite jewelry, and this means that if you are to buy any of the original pieces, you will spend a huge lot on the jewelry.
But the jewelry is made of plastic, so why is it so expensive? We’ll share answers to this question here, but first…
What on Earth is Bakelite Jewelry?
The first time Bakelite jewelry was introduced, it revolutionalized the entire jewelry industry, taking the fashion world by storm. It has been around for decades since the last century, and Bakelite jewelry is still kind of a big deal. But most people still don’t understand it. So, what is it?
Well, Bakelite jewelry is the kind of jewelry that is made of Bakelite. Bakelite is defined as the first type of plastic that was ever made out of materials that are 100% authentic.
The plastic was first made in 1907 by an American-Belgian chemist called Leo Baekeland from New York. The plastic was named after him; sometimes, it is also called Bakelite.
Chemically, Bakelite is a type of thermosetting plastic, a phenol-formaldehyde resin formed through a condensation reaction between phenol and formaldehyde. Put plainly; Bakelite is a form of plastic.
After its creation, Bakelite was patented in 1909, two years after it was created, and it soon became a revolutionary product with multiple industrial applications.
The reasons for its popularity and multiple uses come from the fact that it doesn’t conduct electricity and is also largely heat-resistant.
As a result, Bakelite plastic was quickly used in most industries and not just in jewelry; it was used for electrical insulations, radio and telephone castings, pipe stems, kitchenware, firearms, and kids’ toys.
Bakelite Jewelry History
While Bakelite jewelry was invented before the 20th-century first decade, it wasn’t until much later in the 1920s that the designs of Bakelite jewelry became commonplace.
Also, it wasn’t until the 1930s and 1940s that Bakelite jewelry became popular and a big deal. And when it rose to popularity, Bakelite jewelry took over the entire jewelry industry, especially as it was largely promoted by most of the prominent designs and designers of the time, including Coco Chanel and also Elsa Schiaparelli.
Bakelite jewelry was also featured in a number of high-end fashion magazines, including Vogue. But it wasn’t just popular among the high-end jewelry designers; it was also common in the artisanal spheres and a staple in the jewelry shops down the street and all over the country.
Its popularity came from the fact that Bakelite jewelry is made out of inexpensive plastic materials.
The plastic was also experimented on greatly, and it was used in crafting of pretty much anything anyone thought of, and this was a reason why most designers would charge between 3 and 4-digits from Bakelite jewelry.
So, why was Bakelite jewelry popular?
Well, there are several reasons why Bakelite jewelry was quite popular even from 1920 to the 1930s, and this is believed to have been contributed by several factors such as:
The bright and beautiful colors made of Bakelite. Some of the colors that Bakelite jewelry comes in
include tortoiseshell, lilac, emerald, honey, burgundy, amber, bright yellow, blood red, and green grass. These colorful pieces all featured different levels of lucidity and transparency, and they all easily captivated the public.
If anything, the bright colors of Bakelite jewelry is the exact reason for its popularity of the jewelry.
The malleability of Bakelite jewelry also played a role in the popularity of Bakelite jewelry because it meant that the material could be easily shaped into different shapes ranging from beads and pearls to even more complex and very gorgeous figurines.
Finally, Bakelite was popular because the material was very affordable. The material is low-priced, and the jewelry designers had no qualms when it came to the material and how they opted to use it.
Over time, there were several designs of Bakelite jewelry, in and out of the US, and the jewelry design then spread to Europe and the rest of the world.
For the French designers, for example, there was significant use of Art Deco jewelry and motifs featuring Aztec, African, and Egyptian elements, plus a few other elegant and discreet designs.
German designers also created Bakelite jewelry, whose design elements were inspired by a variety of austere Bauhaus features and aesthetics.
Later, several other European designers made Bakelite jewelry using materials like metals and wood, hence even more innovative and diverse jewelry designs.
The trend and jewelry style spread quite quickly, becoming the staple jewelry style in the 30s and 40s. Unfortunately, its novelty declined soon after as more people make Bakelite jewelry pieces that were cast in molds and then cut before they were re-shaped by hand.
Bakelite Jewelry in Today’s fashion
Bakelite is relatively popular today, and the pieces created today are not as expensive as the Bakelite jewelry options from the 1920s to 1940s.
But this doesn’t mean that Bakelite jewelry is not popular today. If anything, countless jewelry collectors are willing to pay quite a lot for the original pieces of Bakelite jewelry options, especially old retro designs that were popular during the Art Deco period, the pieces that came out just before the 20th century.
The newly-made Bakelite jewelry options may also be less valuable than the older, retro pieces, and today, the value of the Bakelite jewelry designed now varies depending on the designer and the design elements of the jewelry.
But because Bakelite jewelry is relatively inexpensive, new pieces of Bakelite jewelry don’t have much value. That said, Bakelite jewelry, made of different components like precious metals and gemstones, will, however, affect the overall value and the price of the jewelry.
Also, the value of the jewelry varies, depending on the designer and its beauty.
Most expensive Bakelite jewelry
Depending on the age of the jewelry, the design, and the jewelry designer, some of the most expensive pieces of Bakelite jewelry are worth at least $200, but maybe more depending on their features and design elements.
Others go much less, and the newer pieces of Bakelite jewelry are just as inexpensive. Note that pieces by designers like Coco Chanel are expected to be worth much more, depending on the condition they are in.
Why is Bakelite jewelry so expensive?
Bakelite jewelry is made of plastic, but this kind of plastic jewelry is expensive for a number of reasons listed below:
- Bakelite jewelry is made of a unique type of plastic called thermoset plastic, made from phenols and formaldehyde. This unique type of plastic not only allows for the creation of plastic in multiple bold colors and multi-colored designs but also is non-conductive and has a very low heat conductivity, making it the safest jewelry material.
- Bakelite jewelry also boasts a rich history. It was first made in 1907, patented in 1909, and was quite popular in the 1920s-1940s, especially in the Art Deco Period.
- It’s associated with big designer brands and designers like Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli. This contributed to the value of the retro Bakelite jewelry.
- Bright, unique colors.
Should you buy Bakelite jewelry?
It depends. You may or may not buy Bakelite jewelry, depending on your style. Also, it may be ideal for you to buy jewelry if you are a collector.
Just keep in mind that the pieces are not shatter-proof, and you have to be extra careful when handling and taking care of the Bakelite jewelry varieties.
Bakelite Jewelry has been around for decades, a popular jewelry style for individuals looking for brightly colored plastic jewelry.
The jewelry has a rich history, and it is made of an expensive type of plastic that makes the jewelry valuable and even expensive.
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.