ba·ke·lite | ˈbā-kə-ˌlīt
A synthetic material, patented in 1909, that was used in jewelry extensively during the U.S. Great Depression of the 1930s
Created by Leo Baekeland and patented in 1909, bakelite is a castable and fire-resistant plastic. Originally used for manufacturing purposes, early 20th century jewelers began to realize it as a great material for making inexpensive jewelry such as bracelets, rings, and pins. This material became especially popular in the jewelry industry during the Great Depression, both because of its affordability and the wide variety of bakelite colors that were introduced during that time period. Though it was an affordable material, bakelite was also used during the Great Depression by high-end jewelers including Coco Chanel. Today, authentic bakelite is a collectible item, with jewelry collectors purchasing pieces for thousands of dollars. To confirm a jewelry item you are interested in is authentic bakelite, you can dab a cotton swab in 409 house cleaner and touch a small area on the back of the piece of jewelry. If it is truly bakelite, the bakelite’s accumulated patina will show a yellow stain on the cotton swab.