As the saying goes, "Old is gold" and the world of vintage jewelry is no exception. In the realm of retro fashion, Bakelite jewelry has garnered an immense fan following and with good reason. In this blog, we will embark on a delightful journey to uncover the captivating story of vintage Bakelite jewelry – the first-ever fully synthetic plastic trinkets. Brace yourselves to be whisked away to a time when glamour and fashion were an art form and Bakelite ruled the roost.

A Brief History:
Invented by Leo Baekeland, a Belgian chemist, in 1907, Bakelite quickly gained traction in various industries. From electrical insulators to automotive and radio parts, this innovative material proved to be incredibly versatile. However, its claim to fame was its foray into the world of jewelry around the 1920s. Bakelite soon became the perfect budget-friendly option for people who desired stylish accessories without breaking the bank. Its unique designs and striking colors took the world by storm, garnering a loyal following that still exists today.

A shelf full of various bakelite radios in many shades of colours

A collection of Bakelite Radios

A Rainbow of Colors:
One of the primary reasons for Bakelite jewelry’s immense popularity is its staggering array of colors. From bold reds, yellows, and blues carved into fashionable trinkets to earthy browns and greens that could be cast into jewelry, the options were immense. Thanks to its thermosetting process, Bakelite could be molded into vibrant, eye-catching hues that promised to stand the test of time without fading, making it an instant hit amongst the style-conscious.

A large colourful collection of bakelite bangles

A colourful collection of bakelite bangles

Bakelite hinged bangle in black and red with scottie dogs on it

Red and Black hinged bangle

Iconic Designs:
While Bakelite jewelry was budget-friendly, it didn’t skimp on creativity. This era witnessed an outpour of unique designs, shapes, and styles that has kept them popular to this day. Iconic motifs like cherries, leaves, and animal figures may have propelled Bakelite jewelry to fame, but it's the simple bangles, brooches, and earrings that continue to woo collectors. Art Deco-inspired pieces, eccentric figurals and intricate carvings are timeless and have found their way into contemporary trends, proving this jewelry’s enduring charm.

Heart shaped art deco bakelite brooch

1940's Sweetheart Brooch

The cover of a Vintage Magazine with a woman wearing a bakelet brooch

1940's accessorising with a bakelite brooch

Evolution and Revival:
Even though Bakelite production ceased around the 1940s, its legacy lives on. In the 1960s and 70s, artists and collectors sought to revive Bakelite jewelry by way of reproductions and artistic reinterpretations. This renaissance was spearheaded by artists such as Martha Sleeper and Jorge Caicedo Montes de Oca, who strove to keep the spirit of Bakelite alive through their jewelry designs. Today, vintage Bakelite jewelry is highly sought after by collectors and enthusiasts alike, establishing a niche market for itself in the realm of retro fashion.  

Martha Sleeper school themed bakelite brooch

Martha Sleeper School Teacher Brooch

The Bakelite Collector's Experience:
Ask any collector, and they’ll agree that collecting vintage Bakelite jewelry is an intoxicating affair. The hunt for authentic, rare, and pristine pieces sparks a thrill unlike any other. Collector’s item Bakelite pieces not only boast of extraordinary craftsmanship and design, but also bear witness to a different era. Exhibiting a unique patina and warmth that set them apart from contemporary jewelry, these treasures possess an irresistible charm that grows on the beholder.

British Writer Nancy Cunard wearing bakelite bangles on both arms

British Writer Nancy Cunard wearing bakelite bangles

In a nutshell, the story of vintage Bakelite jewelry is one of innovation, ingenuity, and style. These treasures from a bygone era capture the essence of fashionable living in the early 20th century while maintaining their relevance today. Collectors, fashionistas, and history mavens alike can all appreciate the elegance and allure of Bakelite jewelry. As we time travel back with fond nostalgia, we realize that Bakelite's colorful history will forever remain engrained in the annals of fashion, and rightly so. So, go on, delve into the world of vintage Bakelite jewelry and let the magic of the past sweep you off your feet.

March 16, 2023

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