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Vintage Jewelry – What Exactly is Bakelite?

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Bakelite is an early form of plastic invented by Leo Baekeland in 1907.  Bakelite was most popular during the 1930’s -1940’s. It had many uses, including electrical insulators, radio and telephone casings, kitchenware, pipe stems, and children’s toys, but the only one that I find interesting is its use in jewelry 🙂   There are many colors and many interesting designs that have been carved into the jewelry.  It is highly collectible now and pieces can be quite pricey.  Butterscotch and pea green are the most common and, generally, the least expensive colors.  Bakelite Jewelry Bangle Bracelets 1930s/1940s Vintage Jewelry @ www.retrowaste.com/bakelite

Bakelite is often confused with lucite, celluloid and “fakelite”. Lucite was cheap to produce, lightweight, and could be tinted any color and can also be molded and carved. Celluloid  tends to be thin, light, somewhat brittle, sensitive to heat (it often cracks/crazes), and early celluloid can be extremely flammable. Fakelite is newly made plastic pieces manufactured and passed off as vintage Bakelite and often at the high collector prices.

1920's Bakelite Bracelet.

 To be sure you have an authentic piece of Bakelite, follow the steps below to test it:

1. Testing by sound – 2 pieces of Bakelite knocked  together will make a heavy “clunk” sound.

2.Test by feel-Consider the weight of a piece of plastic, especially jewelry. Bakelite feels heavier, more dense when compared to other types of plastics.

3.Test by smell-Rub the item in question vigorously with your thumb until you feel the plastic heat up. Then, before it cools, take a whiff. A distinct chemical odor similar to formaldehyde will linger with most genuine Bakelite.

4. Test by sight -Inspect the piece- look for tiny chips or scratches.  An old piece of Bakelite will not be free of some minor scratches even if its in excellent condition by a collector’s standards.

5. Test by sight #2 -Use Simichrome Polish or Formula 409 cleaner to test for authenticity.  Use a small amount on a damp cloth or cotton swab.  Apply to the backside/underside of the piece.  If it’s Bakelite, the swab will turn yellow. If a piece is laquered, it may test negative.  Black Bakelite pieces often fail this test too.

 

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My one and only prized piece of Bakelite (which I am still not 100% sure is Bakelite- lol)

 

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