Sunday, January 25, 2009

Plastic Fantastic Lover

Bakelite, the world's first synthetic plastic was developed in 1907–1909 by Belgian Dr. Leo Baekeland. Formed by the reaction under heat and pressure of phenol (a toxic, colourless crystalline solid) and formaldehyde (a simple organic compound), it became very popular during the depression because it was less expensive to use than other materials. It replaced wood in radio cases and semi-precious and precious stones in jewelry.

In the 40s and 50s and 60s, additional plastics like celluloid and lucite were invented and used extensively in costume jewelry and other decorative objects. Since I collect vintage (1930s - 1980s) jewelry, I have become fascinated with vintage plastic. I remember as a child hearing all the time that if something was made of plastic it was cheap and not durable. We know now just how durable (think plastic water bottles and bags) plastic is. So I do my part for the planet by taking vintage plastic beads from old jewelry or buying them unused from certain suppliers and repurposing (I like the term upcycling also) them in my jewelry.

I have found vintage plastic beads that simulate wood, stone, glass, metal and gemstones. They are lightweight and come in every finish and color. They don't break and are inexpensive (except for bakelite which is highly collectible). Besides, they remind me of the hours I happily spent rooting around in my Aunt Bert's jewelry box as a kid.


  1. Bakelite! Those rings look fun! How can you tell when you find it?

  2. There's a chemical test for it (you can buy the product) but I also heard that if you drop boiling water on bakelite there is a distinctive odor. Since bakelite is "beyond" my means I've never done it although I think that a few of the pieces I've acquired over the years might indeed be bakelite.