Bakelite is but one of three major groups of plastics, and although the use of Bakelite has diminished greatly recently, the application of other plastics has increased the term Bakelite should be used very carefully, because it specifically identifies a particular formula of plastic, not just any old plastic. The very first plastic was vulcanite a semi-synthetic heat-treated rubber invented by Thomas Hancock in the 1840s. It found its way into jewelry soon after, almost exclusively as chains and bangles. Proxy in (celluloid) under the trade name Parkesite, took second place to Galalith in the production of jewelry. This was mainly due to the very large range of colours in which Galalith could be produced. Its use was on the increase, becoming popular in Europe and the United States just when the more adaptable Bakelite was invented in 1907. Consequently, for a time celluloid and Galalith took a back seat. However, after the Second World War their popularity rose again.
It has been argued that the search for synthetic materials and their use in jewelry was a response to the demand for imitations of natural materials, but the innovative use of plastics for a thousand and one uses belies this idea. The 1920s saw a rapid growth of plastic jewelry: celluloid and rhinestone bangles were worn, several at a time, commonly with the new fashionable Egyptian styling. Sautoirs, typical of the style of the Roaring Twenties", hair ornaments, brooches, and earrings all adorned the modern girl every type of jewelry was created in semi- and fully synthetic materials.
Plastic Leaves Necklace, 1930s
This unsigned necklace comes from the United States and typifies the inventive use of plastics to create a look quite unobtainable using almost any other material, in this case semi-transparent celluloid Canadian maple leaves glow in the rich colours of the North American auturnn The chain is also in celluloid and is sympathetically coloured in hues of auburn and brown.
Lucite Pin, 1935-40
Lucite's allure was generally regarded as being second to that of Bakelite, but it is now just as collectable. It is also commonly confused with its for eru oiler crystal Lucite was commonly reverse carved meaning the back of the piece has a pattern carved into it, giving an extra dimension when viewed from the front the reverse-carved pattern on this type of brooch is frequently painted in juicy bright colours (though this example is not), and these are the most collectable of the reverse carved jewels.
Scotty Dog Brooch, modern
This brooch demonstrates some of the pitfalls one must expect when starting a collection or trying to value a piece. On initial inspection it looks like a wonderful piece of vintage Bakelite from the 1930s even the subject matter and design style are consistent with this. However, this is not the case, because it was made in France in the late 1990s. Unscrupulous dealers managed to sell the brooches to collectors as vintage pieces until more and more appeared on the market and then suspicions arose. If these collectors had studied the piece more closely they would have discovered tell tale signs indicating that it was new these include: the plastic feels too soft and is not polished highly enough; the black bow is integral to the plastic (obviously bonded to the red layer, which was never done in vintage Bakelite) and the pin back is a new non 30s model The brooch is valued.
Writer -Steven Miners