What Is the History of Bakelite Jewelry?


Quick Answer

Bakelite, a synthetic plastic first developed in 1907 by Belgian-American chemist Leo Baekeland, first became a popular material for jewelry in the 1920s. Bakelite was also used extensively in the war effort during the 1940s, though it was gradually superseded by other materials by the 1950s.

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Full Answer

Bakelite was originally used in various industrial applications, especially for the non-conductive parts of electrical devices, including telephones. Its ease of production and ability to be molded into pieces of all shapes and sizes made it ideal for the electrics industry, and also made it attractive for the production of inexpensive but colorful jewelry. Famous designers such as Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli began using it for costume jewelry and specialty buttons. Diana Vreeland, the influential editor of "Vogue" magazine, also began to champion the material. It was also frequently used in billiard balls, chess pieces and other recreational items.

During World War II, bakelite was used for pilot goggles, field telephones and other military equipment. Patriotic-themed jewelry made out of the material was also popular. In the late 1940s, newer materials such as Lucite, which is easier and cheaper to produce, began to replace it. Bakelite continued to be used in various specialty applications, but its heyday as a material for jewelry essentially lasted from the 1920s to the 1940s.

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