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All About Bakelite Jewelry

Vintage Inspirations Part 3 of 5
Plastic has been around since the 19th century. Arguably the most successful plastic for costume  jewelry was Bakelite. Like many inventions, it was accidentally discovered in 1907 by Belgian chemist, Dr Leo Baekeland (1863-1944)  when he was trying to develop a synthetic alternative to shellac, a resin which came from lac beetle cocoons.

The phenol formaldehyde resin he developed was a hard, shatterproof, waterproof and highly moldable plastic which also didn't conduct heat or electricity. It went on to be "a material of a thousand uses." Bakelite marked the beginning of the Age of Plastics.

black cream floral bakelite necklace center

Bakelite jewelry became popular from the 1920's to 1940's. Styles varied and included art deco. One rarest pieces of Bakelite jewelry today were those designed with peacock feathers by Josephine Baker (1906-1975) the American singer and dancer during the Jazz Age. She had them made as gifts fo friends and fans in specially made presentation boxes. During the Depression, Bakelite jewelry was cheap enough for ordinary people - a pin could cost as little as 20 cents.

Bakelite eventually fell out of favor because other later plastics were easier and cheaper to make.  But today many people collect this beautiful form of vintage jewelry. One of the most famous collectors was Andy Warhol (1928-1987) who bought as much as he could find in the 1970's. His huge collection sold for record prices at Sotheby's in 1988 and spawned many new fans.

Most Bakelite jewelry do not carry marks to distinguish it as such so fakes abound. One interesting fact I read is pin backs of original pieces were not glued but drilled or embedded into the Bakelite itself.


Original Post by THE BEADING GEM
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  1. How funny you wrote about this today Pearl. Just last night I was thinking about posting compiling a blog on bakelite, based on your comment to my blog on lucite. It got me interested -will still do it sometime. Great post, love the history of bakelite. Thanks!

  2. LOL! One of the reasons why I left that comment about bakelite on your blog is because it reminded me of this post which was in preparation at the time.

  3. Very interesting...those beads/bangles in the videos look like jewelry from the Hippy era...:0)



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