Thursday, August 5, 2010
Even though I have been collecting vintage jewelry for many years, it is only recently that I have turned to collecting Bakelite jewelry. Bakelite is an early form of plastic created by a Belgian chemist in the early 20th century. Bakelite was made into costume jewelry, hair accessories, and even radio facades. Unlike moonglow and lucite, bakelite is heavier and can often have an aged look or patina to its surface. Another key difference between bakelite and most plastics is the price! Bakelite is usually very expensive. The red spacer above cost me $18 USD and I recently bought another butterscotch colored spacer for about 20 USD. I have seen thicker bangles with intricate carvings go for 180 USD and up!
So, since most vintage collectors want the real deal, how do they know what they are buying is actually bakelite? Most sellers are honest, some are unaware of what constitutes the real deal, and some are out to "pull a fast one" on unsuspecting shoppers. So, what is a vintage girl to do?
There are several ways to test bakelite. Some methods involve using 409 and a q-tip, using Simichrome metal polish, hot water soaking, using Scrubbing Bubbles cleaner, hot needles (not recommended), listening for a distinctive "clunk" sound, and friction.
I am sure that pulling out cleaners and polish in the middle of the antique mall is not going to go over well with sellers. You could ruin their merchandise or just simply end up looking weird. I have found that friction testing and listening for the clunk are the best ways to test for bakelite authenticity.
When using the friction method, gently rub a small section of the bakelite until it feels warm. Smell your fingers and the bakelite. You should be able to detect the scent of formaldehyde. If you rub a piece of standard lucite or basic plastic, you will not detect ANY scent.
If you tap two pieces of bakelite together (this really works for bangles and spacers), you should be able to hear a heavy, solid clunk. If the pieces are plastic, not only will they feel lighter, they will have a light "tick" not a "clunk."
Another important characteristic of bakelite bangles and spacers is how they are usually "seamless." Unlike most plastics, bakelite bangles do not have seams in the middle.
I am still learning about bakelite and the more I learn, I will share with you all. I am having fun building my wares but boy, it this hard on my wallet!
So, do you like bakelite? Are you a collector? What are your tried-and-true methods for ensuring your investment is the 'real McCoy?'