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Gale's Bakelite Guide


Yes, it's true. Very good reproductions of Bakelite bracelets are now being produced in Asia. They are made of some sort of resin, they are cast, and they are hand-carved. Here are some examples of newly-made Fakelite from Asia:

This stuff is often sold in "private auctions" on ebay. It is NOT vintage, nor is it BAKELITE. Advertised as "passing all tests," including Simichrome and (believe it or not) toilet cleaner (we shudder to think!), these bracelets are actually much heavier than Bakelite, and they smell completely different than Bakelite smells under hot water.

These bracelets are very pretty when you see them in a picture on your computer, and the carving gets better with each boatload to America. When you see them in person, they are WAY wrong. The marbling is not right, and the heavy weight is a dead giveaway. Some are actually engraved "August Bonaz, Paris 1930" on the insides, which is SO fake. Diabolical! The Asian reverse-carved apple juice bangles are especially good repros, very hard to tell from the vintage ones.

Sold in high volume, these are now starting to fall into the hands of dealers who are either unscrupulous or honestly didn't know they were repros. At any rate, the prices are climbing as they get sold from dealer to dealer, and folks are going to be disappointed when they learn that what they got is a repro.

DO NOT GET RIPPED OFF! These are new, and are regarded only as contemporary costume jewelry by Bakelite collectors. You shouldn't pay more than $25 or $30 for a Fakelite bracelet. DON'T GET STUCK WITH ONE OF THESE DOGS!

FAKElite is now being produced by the bucketload!
Here are two shocking photos, direct from Asia:

Wow, is this scarey, or what? No, not really. Not if you pay attention and trust your instincts.
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is!
Use some common sense: If you are in doubt about a piece, ask the dealer specific questions. Do not accept vague answers. Make sure the dealer has a return policy. Take your time, do some research. Or buy vintage Bakelite from one of the many reputable Bakelite dealers that you probably already know.

Now, please take some time to review the characteristics of our beloved Vintage 1930's American Bakelite one more time:

Facts about Vintage 1930s American Bakelite Jewelry:

The Bakelite Tests

Never, ever stick a hot pin in ANY plastic!
This is NOT an accurate test, and even if the piece IS Bakelite, it will be RUINED.
Most collectors will REJECT a piece which has been "pinned."

Please don't perform the following tests on any piece of vintage jewelry unless you are relatively certain that it is indeed Bakelite! Many older plastics are fragile and can melt, dissolve, get ruined, or--in the case of the lightweight, molded Celluloid--ignite! Don't apply chemicals to painted or resin-coated pieces--results will be inaccurate, and the paint or coating will be ruined. Please, if the jewelry does not conform to the heft, color and construction guidelines (as listed in the Quick Facts above), don't ruin the piece by doing the test!

MOST ACCURATE: The Hot Water Test
The best test is to run the piece under hot tap water, or wear the bangle while you relax in the hot tub or shower.
If it smells a little like your old high school chemistry lab (formaldehyde), it's Bakelite.
If it smells like vicks vapo-rub (camphor), it's Celluloid.
If it smells like burnt milk, it's Galalith (1920's).
If it smells clean, or like nothing at all, it's lucite or acrylic.

The Rub 'n Sniff Test
Many people can perform the "sniff test" without the hot water, just by rubbing on it really hard until it emits an odor. These people are lucky. Most of us (especially smokers, whose hands already contain formaldehyde from the ciggies) really are unable to discern an accurate smell by rubbing. Hot water is the most accurate test.

The 409 Test
Put some 409 on a Q-tip. Rub a tiny unobtrusive place on the jewelry. Do not immerse the piece or rub the entire piece with this stuff. You only need to do an area the size of a Q-tip. If the Q-tip comes away amber-yellow in color, (no matter what color the jewelry is) then it is Bakelite. If it comes away some other color, or the same color as the jewelry, it's not Bakelite. Please rinse the piece thoroughly to clean this stuff off the jewelry as soon as you're done; this is some caustic stuff.
Let's try not to wreck too many pieces of vintage jewelry in the interest of "is it Bakelite."

The Simichrome Test
Carry a tube of Simichrome chrome cleaner (available at flea markets, some hardware stores, and Pep Boys) and a few Q-tips with you. Put a very small amount of Simichrome on the Q-tip. With the dealer's permission, rub a tiny (1/4") spot on an unobtrusive place of the jewelry with the Q-tip. Then look at the Q-tip. If the polish changes color from pink to amber-yellow, it's Bakelite. If it stays pink, it's some other plastic. Remember to wipe the polish off the jewelry when you're done!
Note: This is not always an accurate test. Some pieces of black Bakelite do not turn the Simichrome from pink to yellow, even though they're Bakelite. Go figure. Nothing that man has invented is ever perfect in this world.

The Best Test of All
Put it in the most efficient marketplace. Auction it on ebay. Describe the color, measurements, how the hardware is affixed, whether or not it has seams. Show the front and the back of the pin or clip. Show a bracelet from top and sides, and let the buyer see the inside of the bracelet. Show the clasp of the necklace, as well as the dangles. Describe any chips, cracks, or discoloration. If you have clear photos and an accurate description, the Bakelite collectors will know what it is. Believe me, the final price will tell you more accurately than any other test!
Bakelite has some real value!

The Best Bakelite Reference Books

The Bakelite Jewelry Book by Davidov and Dawes.
The classic. The book that started it all for so many of us. Originally published in 1988, before the proliferation of phoney reproductions began. If you read this book and look at these photos, you should have all the knowledge you'll ever need about Bakelite. This book is beautifully researched and the photos are the tastiest. You won't find any FAKElite, repro or glued-together "buttons 'n buckles 'n beads" pieces in this one--just gorgeous, original, high-end, museum-quality pieces of 1930s Bakelite.

Bakelite Bangles: Price and Identification Guide by Karima Parry.
Covering all ranges of bangles, from the modest to the magnificent, this book is a must-have for every collector of Bakelite Jewelry. Detailed descriptions of every type of design, color, marbling, and very up-to-date info on testing and spotting repros and fakes! The hundreds of clear, detailed color photos show over 1,500 bangles. Don't miss the fascinating chapter on Ron and Esther Shultz, with many of their modern works of bakelite folk-art jewelry pictured. The photos throughout the book are gorgeous, the text is clear and concise, the content is informative and entertaining. I never thought I'd like another Bakelite book as well as I like Davidov and Dawes' book, but Karima Parry's book fits the bill so well for today's collector--from beginner to advanced--there's something for everyone here!

Hope this information helps eliminate some of the confusion about Bakelite. --Gale.
28 March 1999, revised 7 August 1999, 31 January 2000, 29 April 2001.

Many thanks to Karima Parry at Plastic Fantastic for her wonderful support and valuable current information. Many thanks to the sweet and generous Bakelite collectors on ebay, and the very savvy vintage jewelry friends on the ebay jewelry chat board.

Happy Bakelite Hunting!

Now take a look at some great Bakelite on ebay!