Saturday, March 28, 2009

Bakelite Jewelry - Hot Collecting Trend

Bakelite Jewelry has become a hot collecting area in the last several decades. Collectors are always on the look out for new colors and designs. But be careful, there is a lot of "fakelite" being sold as genuine bakelite.

I've written an artice for my reference library on Vintage Jewelry Lane on how to test for and identify Bakelite. The article gives some background on the material and outlines a variety of tests for you to do to ascertain whether your piece is the real thing.

The words "bakelite" and "catalin" are often used interchangeably. However, they are actually two different materials. Both are thermoset plastics made from formaldehyde. The differences between the two are in the fillers used, origin of manufacture, the opaqueness, and the colors available. Most bakelite jewelry that you see for sale is actually catalin.

Bakelite is a US manufactured product, patented in 1907 by a Belgian chemist, Dr. Leo Hendrik Baekeland, working in New York. Most early uses of Bakelite were radios, handles for pots and pans, castings for televisions, toys, etc. Some was even used in coffins! Bakelite was manufactured between 1907 and 1927.

Once you have actually identified a few pieces and tested some bakelite jewelry, you will get a "feel" for it and will be able to detect it just by looking at the jewelry piece, in a lot of cases. It has a definite look to it that is unique. Some colors are a little harder than others to identify.

Much of the fakelite being sold comes in very vibrant colors. This is a good indicator that it isn't bakelite, although not fool proof. Most bakelite colors are somewhat more muted than the mass produced fakelite.

Here are a couple examples of brightly colored fakelite:


Fakelite pictures courtesy of Gale's bakelite guide

Compare these to the much more muted bakelite pieces:



Vintage Jewelry Lane has a nice range of genuine bakelite jewelry. All of it has been tested and is guaranteed to be genuine.

With the high prices that genuine bakelite now bring, it will pay you to be well informed on the subject. I hope this blog post and my bakelite information article at Vintage Jewelry Lane will be of some help to you.

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