Bakelite is one of the earliest plastics made from synthetic components. Bakelite has enjoyed very diverse use thanks to its heat resistance and non-conductivity, including use in radio and telephone casings, jewellery, children's toys, pipe stems, and kitchenware. Today, many Bakelite jewellery accessories are valuable collectible items.
Collectible Bakelite Accessories
In its early days, Bakelite did not put the main focus on accessories. Bakelite jewellery kicked off in the 1930s and 1940s thanks to the introduction of a wider range of colours. The most expensive Bakelite items include intricate carvings, bangles with multiple colours laminated together or with polka dots, bangles with heavy carving, and pins with figures. It is also worth noting that pea green and butterscotch are the most common colours available and, therefore, also the least expensive.
End of Day Bakelite Pieces
The 'end of day' pieces combine more than one colour. These batches of jewellery are from leftover plastics that the workers mix together at the end of the day in order to avoid wasting any material. These pieces are distinctly different, and some collectors focus only on those pieces.
Testing the Authenticity of Bakelite Accessories
There are several ways to test whether a Bakelite accessory is genuine or fake. The most accurate and safest test is the hot water test. Simply run the item under hot tap water or wear it next time you take a hot bath, and then smell the item. If it smells like formaldehyde or your school's chemistry lab, it is genuine Bakelite. If it smells like camphor, it is celluloid, and if it smells like burnt milk, it is galalith. No smell indicates that the piece is either from acrylic or lucite. Another quite accurate test is the 409 test that involves dipping a cotton swab into 409 household cleaner and then touching a small spot on a Bakelite item. In case of genuine Bakelite jewellery, the cotton swab gets a yellow stain due to accumulated patina. After the test, you need to rinse the cleaner off the Bakelite accessory quickly.
Many Bakelite accessories are reproductions, but they are still not fakes because they use the genuine Bakelite stock, namely old objects, in order to create new Bakelite items. Craftspeople could use, for instance, Bakelite radios or clocks and turn these into jewellery. Generally, people also note if the item is a reproduction using vintage Bakelite.
Bakelite Colour Alterations
Vintage Bakelite accessories, such as necklaces, may have lost some of their colour over time. White can turn to cream corn, pink to orange, violet to brown, and blue and turquoise to green. However, old pieces that have a proper oxidised colour and other signs of ageing are generally more valuable than bright new colours.