News-Antique.com - Dec 30,2010 - I've always been attracted to Bakelite . The art deco influence was strongly
evident in the carvings and shapes. I wondered about what it was made of
and where the name came from.
It was invented by Leo Baekland in 1909, he was NY chemist, who discovered a liquid resin that hardened into a solid form. It was unique in that colored dyes could be added to the liquid state to color it.
Fashion designer Coco Chanel helped to popularize the new material when she made ‘costume’ jewelry acceptable and affordable by using bakelite. Prior to Chanel, genuine gemstone, pearl and metal jewelry wasn’t affordable for the average woman, The vogue for synthetic accessories helped to create a mass commercial market for bakelite, it was used for buckles, buttons, handbag handles, umbrella handles, brooches, bracelets, pins, earrings, and charm bracelets. It was made into tubes, from which individual pieces were cut and carved. Bangle bracelets were cut from the tube, then tumbled in a polisher Bakelite was fully embraced when precious metals and glass were sacrificed for the war effort. For a while, the material was king, but when modern plastics were developed in the 1950’s, bakelite became nothing but a fond memory.