A Bakelite locket is truly a unique and hard-to-find collector's piece of vintage jewelry.
What Is Bakelite?
Simply put, Bakelite is a trademark name for vintage resin or plastic jewelry that Leo Baekeland accidentally discovered in 1907. Bakelite patented his process in 1909 and opened his own company to produce the product. At the time it was produced, Bakelite was touted as a remarkable industrial product used for various applications, as well as with other materials for strengthening purposes. Bakelite was unusually resistant to open flames, making it a valuable new resource for industries.
Influenced by the creations of the Art Deco period (1920s to 1935), jewelry makers sought new mediums to express this new art movement. It was a logical choice that jewelers turned to Bakelite to provide them with a new medium of expression. Perhaps it was the restrictions created by the 1929 Great Depression that forced jewelry makers to seek cheap ways to make affordable jewelry pieces. Whatever the reason, in the early 1930s, Bakelite found its way into the costume jewelry arena and went on to become a fixture on fashion runways. Department stores such a B. Altman's, Bonwit Tellers, Saks, and Sears carried Bakelite jewelry and lockets.
There are several reasons for the continued popularity of Bakelite jewelry through the 1940s. A new color pallet was introduced that broadened the fashion use. Bakelite was an ideal choice for large pieces of jewelry, since it could be created without being too heavy to wear comfortably. With the beginning of World War II in 1942, the majority of Bakelite jewelry production ended, and the manufacturing focus turned to military requisitions such as telephones and other plastic products.
Lockets Made of Bakelite
Although many different kinds of jewelry were created from Bakelite, lockets were one of the most exciting accessories on the market. Many of these lockets were constructed with a slide system that allowed you to slide the locket open, while others opened like a typical locket. The lockets came in a variety of beautiful styles:
- Brooch or pin locket
- Rectangular Flapper locket with hidden comb located on the slide part
- Locket with a mirror on one side and place for a photo on other side
- Locket with intricately carved interior photo wells
- Locket designed to hold a lock of hair
- Marble ball or globe locket
One of the most desirable attributes of many of the Bakelite lockets is that they were hand-carved. This allowed for quite a few creative and unique lockets, as well as a diverse range of locket styles. Cameos were a popular locket design. Another design included highly detailed floral motifs.
Finding a Vintage Bakelite Locket
There are many places where you can find Bakelite jewelry. There are fewer lockets to be found than bracelets. Since these are typically one-of-a-kind finds, you'll need to visit some sites often to see their most recent offerings. You'll find older lockets in either a cherry red or medium to pale color.
Check out the following Internet sites as you search for a locket:
Vintage-Style Bakelite by Modern Artisans
When you start shopping for vintage Bakelite, you'll quickly discover that this is not a completely lost art form. There are some contemporary artisans who are creating new and replica jewelry designs out of old Bakelite stock. In addition, most offer repair services that could be beneficial if you have a vintage locket that needs to be fixed. If you can find a locket that is reproduced using vintage Bakelite, you'll still pay the same price that you would if the Bakelite were a piece of vintage jewelry. Some of these artisans, like Brad Elfrink of Elvenkrfte Studios, will work on commission pieces, which is a good choice if you're unable to find the locket you want.
Price Determined by Demand
The cost of Bakelite jewelry, especially lockets. depends on the collecting market and what is in high demand. For example, a koi carved bracelet goes for nearly $900 while a cameo lady locket may be purchased for as little as $50 to $400. Pricing also depends on the jewelry designer, if known, as well as the condition and age of the piece. All Bakelite pieces will have scratches and possibly even nicks, since they are vintage jewelry that was loved and worn by their owners.
With the many plastics available on the market today, there's always the risk that you may fall victim to imitation Bakelite jewelry scams. There are a few authenticating tests that you can perform to determine whether a locket is real Bakelite.
- 409 or Simi-chrome Polish Test: Apply a small amount of 409 or Simi-chrome polish to a 100 percent cotton swab. Select a tiny area on the back of the locket, and swab lightly with the cotton ball. If it's an authentic piece of Bakelite, you should have a yellow residue on the cotton swab. Be sure to rinse the 409 or Simi-chrome polish off the locket to protect the Bakelite. Black pieces generally won't pass this test because of the lacquered finished.
- Heat and Scent: Another collector's tip is to dip the jewelry in a very hot water. When you remove the jewelry, an authentic Bakelite will have the scent of formaldehyde or camphor. Some collectors suggest you can simply rub your finger over the piece to create enough friction heat to allow you to smell the chemicals.
- Sound Test: The clunk sound is one of the surest ways to tell authentic Bakelite from modern Lucite. Two pieces of Bakelite when clashed together will make a distinctive clunking sound.
- Weight Test: Bakelite is heavier than most modern imitations.
Patience Is Key
Bakelite lockets are rare, but they aren't impossible to find. If you approach your search for your ideal locket with an attitude of patience, then you'll have a more pleasant search and will eventually find the perfect locket.