Bakelite is a trade name for a type of plastic made from phenol and formaldehyde. It was originally created for industrial purposes at the turn of the last century, but when it caught the eyes of such jewelry and fashion greats like Coco Chanel, it quickly became a popular jewelry material. Most baby boomers probably had Bakelite bracelets and love beads in their jewelry boxes as teens. It is now becoming quite popular again. Here is why, and how you can get your hands on the vintage stuff.
It Is Worth THOUSANDS
There are many pieces of estate jewelry that are coming on the open antique market. They are made of Bakelite, as these individuals kept their pieces from their teen years in the '60's and '70's. Much of it was recycled, melted, or destroyed in the last five decades because of the formaldehyde in it, which also makes it rare. If you find that you have some Bakelite jewelry, it could be worth thousands of dollars, especially if it was designed by the house of Chanel or other fashion designers of the forties, fifties, sixties, and seventies.
It Is Easy to Wear and the Few Rare Colors Work with Everything
Bakelite was, and is, very light in weight. A couple bracelets of this stuff together on a wrist sound like hollow plastic tubes hitting a brick wall, but you hardly notice that you are wearing them. They only came in orange, light brown, mustard yellow, white, and dark brown, all of which were very popular colors in the heyday of hippies and sit-ins. Now, it is popular because it can be worn or matched to just about anything you wear.
How to Get the Vintage Stuff
If you think you have Bakelite, test it. A cotton swab with a little 409 cleaner on it touched to the inside or backside of the jewelry will leave a yellow stain on the swab. Wash the tested spot right away so that you do not leave a permanent damage spot on the jewelry.
If you do not have any Bakelite, start scrounging estate sales. Estate jewelry sold in bags and lots may have some major treasure finds. Just beware of "Fakelite," which is the newer, non-vintage version of the jewelry. The fake stuff will not leave a yellow stain on a cotton swab with 409, so it helps to take some pre-dipped swabs with you when you check out the jewelry at an estate sale. Never pay full price for Bakelite when it is really Fakelite.