Recently I’ve been seeing quite a bit more Bakelite than I’ve ever seen before, especially in jewelry shops. Since its big return to the retail market, like in the Marni for H&M collection, it seems that Bakelite has found its Spring in every little jeweler, department store and market!
I am a big fan of Bakelite, especially when it comes to vintage jewels! This fire resistant plastic was invented by Leo Baekeland in 1909. It was developed for industrial purposes until its big success among the ladies of the 1930s and ’40s when it began to be used to produce lightweight and cheap necklaces, bracelets, rings and brooches. The popularity of Bakelite kept growing through the decades- becoming a staple of 1970s jewelry. Don’t forget, even Coco Chanel created amazing jewels in Bakelite and rhinestones like these wonderful bangles.
Unfortunately; as inexpensive as Bakelite was, it was not able to escape the law of supply and demand. Its growing popularity made it become a bit overpriced and many producers started using other materials like Lucite or Celluloid to replace it. This is the reason why nowadays you can find a lot of “fake Bakelite” around. But I read on the Internet that there is a test (actually two!) that you can do to know if your jewels are genuine Bakelite or not: you can simply put it in hot water and smell it right after. Genuine Bakelite smells like camphor when warmed. A more complicated authentication is the 409 test: simply dip a cotton swab in 409 household cleaner and touch a very tiny area of the piece (better a piece that won’t be visible when worn); if the piece is vintage or true Bakelite, the accumulated patina will show up as a yellow stain on the cotton swap.
Authentic vintage Bakelite is very easy to find in vintage shops or antiques markets if you looking for the “real McCoy.” But there are a lot of retro inspired pieces at affordable prices available that can be used every day- for example: for work, to add some spicy retro vibe to your classical smart blazer!
If you are in Milan, I particularly appreciate a small shop called Colazione Da (via Sciesa, 2) where I bought some of my new retro inspired Bakelite jewels. There you can find a huge collection of great Bakelite pieces. You can also look for this amazing stall on the Naviglio Grande during the famous monthly Antiques’ Market. They have a lot of vintage and new Bakelite pieces at very affordable prices. I also remember a great staller in the Forlì Vintage Fair (but I can’t remember his name) with the biggest ’80s Bakelite collection that I’ve ever seen (I’m still looking for him!) He was selling, for example, some amazing Laura Biagiotti as well as 1980s Krizia Bakelite earrings.
This is my small (for now!) collection of Bakelite jewels: the bangles are genuine vintage from the ’70s and ’80s. The other earrings and necklaces come from the shop that I mentioned earlier that, again, only uses genuine Bakelite or pieces from Antiques’ Market (lovely indeed). You can also see my Marni for H&M earrings that I got from KNAGUI’s trusty eye. Of course this is a collection that needs to groooooow!
When you buy Bakelite make sure this is genuine vintage Bakelite or that the new jewels (or any other pieces) are created with original materials. This may cost a little bit more, but the peace of mind in having an authentic Bakelite piece makes it worth it!