Becoming a Collector of Vintage Bakelite Jewelry

vintage bakelite jewelryOnce you have decided you want to start collecting Vintage Bakelite Jewelry, you need to get started somewhere and one should start off slowly and carefully. It helps, of course to have some basic knowledge of the history of this wonderful era of collecting. There are many exceptional books on Vintage Bakelite jewelry readily available, which are a most useful resource. We have been dealing in Vintage Bakelite jewelry for well over 25 years and truly feel that it is never to late to start collecting, wearing and enjoying Vintage Bakelite jewelry. This form of Vintage Plastic Jewelry is indeed a wonderful tribute to the designs contributed from the Art Deco era.

The Art Deco period began with the end of the Art Nouveau period in approximately 1920 and continued through 1935. During this era, the most accessible and collectible jewelry of the Deco era was “plastic.” The word “plastic” and “jewelry” do not seem to go together for many people, but they do if you are an avid collector of Deco jewelry – in Bakelite – the colorful fun jewelry that is so fashionable to wear. As far as we are concerned, we are of the opinion that this is the ultimate in costume jewelry, as it is worn completely for effect, to enhance the “costume.” Rather than being spurned as it was for many years, it is worn today in the spirit of colorful fun for which it was intended. In addition, when searching for Bakelite jewelry, one can find some fabulous examples of great design work in the harder-to-find pieces that have made their happy way to the collectible’s market. When beginning to collect Vintage Bakelite jewelry, certainly do not feel that you have to start off with highly carved and costly pieces. This is not the case.

So, you say you like Bakelite, but don’t quite know what it is…..Bakelite, a Phenolic Resin, was cast into tubes, rods and carved sheets by machinists and was invented by Dr. Leo Bakeland, for which he obtained a patent on July 13, 1907. The demand for it and its uses in household items, kitchenware, games, toys, electrical insulators and of course jewelry, made this product an instant success. It was intended for the masses. Most Bakelite jewelry production ceased in 1942 at the beginning of World War II.

Bakelite jewelry was sold in the 1930’s and early 1940’s in such noteworthy United States department stores such as Sears, Saks, B. Altmans and Bonwit Tellers. There were well known designers such as Van Cleef and Arpel, Channel and Lalique who even designed items using this material. These were the times of the depression and the bright and durable Bakelite items were an instant hit with all, with a wonderful array of colors available. The Queen may not have worn Bakelite at the time, but in a recent television program, the Royal Yacht Britannia had furnishings that had Bakelite trim.

It can be a truly awesome and confusing experience when beginning one’s search for that first piece of Vintage Bakelite jewelry. As with all vintage and collectible jewelry, time creates scarcity. There is much to choose from, and it can be found in bricks and mortar shops, antiques shows, flea markets and of course the ever popular internet. There are many Bakelite “imposters” being sold, so one needs to be prudent when shopping for Vintage Bakelite. While “copying” is the best form of flattery, we are dismayed that there is a “cottage industry” that has been created with the production of “fakelite,” jewelry that is manufactured in different parts of the world, giving the appearance of being Vintage Bakelite. It is our recommendation that probably the best item to start collecting Vintage Bakelite is with the Bakelite bangle. These run the gamut from highly carved and wide to thinner, non-carved spacer bangles. The highly carved Bakelite bangles tend of course, to be higher in price. While they are truly spectacular and striking with exquisitely crafted workmanship, this may not be the place to start if you are shopping within a “Bakelite budget.” One can always upgrade. Because the colors of Vintage Bakelite are like a box of Crayola crayons (most having oxidized over the years to darker tones), wearing several thinner spacer bangles can be just as striking, less costly and effective for the beginner collector as wearing a wide deeply carved and chunky Bakelite bangle. These will cost you less and you will still be the proud owner of Vintage Bakelite bangles. As time and budget permits, one can always purchase a wider carved bangle, wearing the spacer bangles on either side for yet a different vintage fashion look.

When you have decided that you want to start the Bakelite jewelry “hunt,” one must be armed with knowledge and be assertive and ask questions of the dealer(s) you are considering making a purchase from. Ask this individual if the item has been positively “tested” for Bakelite and what test had they utilized. Authentic vintage Bakelite when run under very hot water will yield a strong smell and most pieces, when rubbed with 409 household cleaner or Simichrome polish, will turn a q-tip yellowish. Additionally, Vintage Bakelite jewelry will have no seams, so check the inside of the bangle carefully for this. We always utilize these testing methods to ascertain that we are selling an authentic Vintage piece of Bakelite jewelry. We are also aware that the fake items being presented in the marketplace, have been “treated” in such as way that they may pass the “Bakelite test” As one continues to collect the “real” thing, practice will make perfect. If one is searching for and collecting vintage Bakelite, be wary of these “Fakelite” reproductions that are in the market today and we recommend that true authentic vintage Bakelite be purchased only from a reputable, experienced dealer, hopefully when you visit Evelynne’s Oldies But Goodies. We pride ourselves in only presenting to you authentic Vintage Bakelite jewelry and always continue the hunt! Feel free to ask questions of any vintage Bakelite dealer regarding an item and enjoy the thrill of collecting vintage Bakelite!

Bakelite brooches should not be overlooked, as they are indeed a vintage fashion complement to the bangle and are extremely versatile. They can also be found in heavily carved brooches but also simple Bakelite bar pins are equally attractive. Don’t overlook the wonderful Bakelite dress clips as well. Both of these items can be worn in a variety of ways and in a variety of angles and the wearing of both items, make a presentation that cannot be beat to complete any outfit if you want the Bakelite “look!”

We have dealt in Vintage Bakelite, as stated for well over 25 years, and are a mother-daughter partnership, and the “mother” portion of our shop, Evelynne’s Oldies But Goodies, grew up being surrounded by Vintage Bakelite, both in jewelry and in the home and still has a love and passion for it. We always welcome questions and queries about purchasing a piece of Vintage Bakelite or any general questions about the era. We will be glad to help anybody with their “Bakelite search” Happy hunting!!

3 comments

I’ve come to own a tray of bakelite pieces, i.e. mostly pins, brooches, and belt buckles, which are badly in need of cleaning, both the bakelite and the metal fastners on the backs of the pieces. Is it safe to wash them, and with what? I would appreciate any information you can provide.

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