Bakelite, an original plastic, was patented in 1907, but its heyday in the jewelry department began in the 1920s and lasted into the sixties. For several decades bakelite was used to create bangles, brooches, beads and pendants in Art Deco designs for a glamorous public scrambling for affordable jewelry. For subsequent decades, Bakelite jewelry became commonplace and until recently it was easy to find in thrift stores and antique shops. Today, however, vintage bakelite is hot, hot, hot and collectors are paying premium prices for some of the more sought after designs.
The term bakelite is frequently used to cover a multitude of vintage plastics that even includes the popular lucite also used to create jewelry. Celluloid pieces, ring boxes and dresser boxes are also highly collectible and sometimes wind up lumped under the bakelite term. True bakelite, however, can be tested by rubbing a bit of Simichrome onto the piece with a white cloth; if your cloth turns yellow to yellow-gold, you have bakelite. There are other tests that are used to determine bakelite, but not all tests are completely accurate to positively test either American or European Bakelite. Before beginning your collection, it may be useful to check into other ways to denote bakelite from other hard plastics.
Once you get the bakelite bug, you will cultivate an eye for the stuff - its colorations, for example. Also, bakelite pieces do not have seams as other plastic pieces do, which is also a clue as to whether your piece is bakelite. Once you add pieces to your jewelry collection, be sure to store all your bakelite pieces away from heat and out of direct sunlight. Vintage jewelry hunters can easily find bakelite on eBay today with widely varying price ranges; however, rare pieces may hit well beyond the thousand dollar mark, making this plastic the aristocrat of all plastic jewelry.
Apple juice, peach, butterscotch and black cherry - these are just a few popular shades of bakelite pieces. Bakelite bangles are common pieces of plastic jewelry that can be simple or highly ornate. A single black bangle will be far less expensive than a marbled blue-green bangle or a rare carved aqua-colored bangle. The best part apart about wearing bakelite bangles is that your same cherry bangle can be worn with a sweatshirt and a pair of jeans as well as your fancy red cocktail dress. Bakelite bangles have a versatile style that adds to their collectible appeal. Also, bakelite is a very wearable collectible. Not everyone can wear their Victorian choker everyday, but a piece of bakelite adapts to today's styles.
Many bakelite designs are reflective of the geometric patterns of the Art Deco era. Triangles, squares, circles can be found in many pieces. To the women of that era, they were modern and like nothing else, but even today, their simple designs retain that modern appeal. A simply designed bakelite pin might employ a top rectangle in blue, a bottom rectangle in green and a cream-colored zigzag dividing the two. Necklaces that employed bakelite diamond shapes were popular designs. Bakelite beads in their characteristic colors were also used for both necklaces and bracelets. Checkerboard patterns in bakelite are also popular designs.
But geometric shapes are only one aspect of bakelite design. Some of the most rare and prized pieces are novelties like heart-lock pins with attached key, or fruits like a sprig of cherries or a lemon wedge. Animals can also be found in bakelite design from zebra-like prints to actual creatures like penguins, frogs, snakes, birds, etc. Simply do a bakelite search sometime on eBay and you will find a vast array of bakelite pieces - only take care to press sellers for the validity of their bakelite assumptions. Sometimes the term is used simply to attract buyers to the auction.
In any case, there is still plenty of real bakelite jewelry to be found on eBay or from antique stores. Wearing vintage jewelry always adds that extra stylish something, but bakelite adds glamour that is so identifiable with the Art Deco period in history. Just be careful to buy genuine bakelite and to care for it accordingly. Then, wear it as often as you like - it's essentially as durable as it is beautiful. Wearers of bakelite jewelry will always have a great conversation piece on hand, and because it has outlasted many trends and fads, it has become a classic, and is great style to make a jewelry investment.