Winters Past

20th Century Fashion from Deco to Disco

Is it Bakelite?

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Bakelite bangles. They’re a pretty (and pretty collectible) type of vintage jewelry.

How do you know it’s the real thing? Get used to handling some bakelite to get a sense of what you’re aiming for. That way, you can develop your senses and your instincts.

First, look at the piece. If there is a seam, it’s not bakelite, since bakelite was carved, not molded. Notice the colors-they should be pretty and rich, with some more and less saturated areas. Bakelite won’t have any whitish wear at the edges; the color goes all the way through the piece rather than being applied on top. A piece of bakelite is somewhere around 80 years old, so it will have a nice patina befitting it’s age and wear. If it looks too crisp and clean, it might be a newer piece.

Rub the bracelet-it should be smooth with no pitted areas.

Some bakelite, when warmed by rubbing, gives off a bit of a chemistry-lab smell. Some people run it under warm tap water and then sniff. I don’t think this is a definitive test, but it can be helpful.

There is a sound that bakelite bangles make when they tap against each other that is a little more musical than the sound of two Lucite or resin pieces. Subjective, sure, but give it a try.

So if I think it’s bakelite at this point, I use a polish called Simichrome on a q-tip. Dab a bit on the inside or back of the piece and rub it in. If it’s Bakelite, it will turn the q-tip yellowish while if it’s not, it will be pink or grey. When you’re done testing, remove the polish from the bracelet with a soft cloth. Now, there are pieces of old bakelite that have been refinished or reworked, and the q-tip might not turn yellow for them, but the other tests will be positive. Over time, when they regain their patina, the Simichrome will test positive again.

Here are two groups of plastic bracelets. The ones on the right are bakelite, while on the left, they are not. The left side group of bracelets feel light and hollow, and the colors are flatter. Most of them have a seam. None tested positive with the simichrome. Some of them are pretty in their own right (I like that tortoise shell lucite one, 4th from the front), they’re just not bakelite.

bakelite bangles

Some bakelite bangles in varying colors on the right (and some on the left that are vintage but not bakelite)

bakelite bracelets

Nice warm colors and a rich patina

how to tell if its bakelite

with areas that are more and less saturated

simichrome polish

And here is the Simichrome polish

Author: Winters Past

I am a vintage clothing shop owner living and working in rural north Florida. I believe in adding a little vinegar and molasses to my greens, having my coffee outside whenever possible, and mixing something vintage into every room and every outfit.

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