May 15, 2009

Bakelite…The Amazing Plastic of the Early 20th Century

What is the lure of Bakelite today? Why do people spend hundreds of dollars for a carved bangle bracelet, a pin, a necklace made from this first plastic invented c.1909 by Belgian inventor, Chemist L.H.Baekeland? I would say it is the lure of Vintage…owning something from a bygone period--and above all, the artisanship of the pieces.

Bakelite is the most well known of the earlier plastics, though people tend to lump all the early plastics under the title of Bakelite. The value of Bakelite is almost always higher than the other plastics. However, these other plastics are just as wonderful as Bakelite and have their value too. Parkesine (1862), Xylonite (1869), Celluloid (1869), Galalith (1897, aka Erinoid and French Bakelite), Bakelite (1909), Catalin (1927), and Lucite (1931, aka Plexiglas or Perspex). The first two, Parkesine and Xylonite, failed, but Galalith is still used today; primarily for making buttons. Lea Stein and Pavone are two recognized modern designers of French Bakelite Jewelry.

I fell in love with these wonderful early plastics in the form of buttons. To me they each were small pieces of sculpture. The questions were first of all, how to find the buttons at reasonable prices, and then how to assemble the buttons in a design that was fetching, beautiful and comfortable. My answer came to me with much experimentation. After time and great effort I had my product. Because of the construction of the button, its center of gravity being in the center, I felt that bracelets would be the best form for their use. I tried stretch elastic which is great for some designs, but not all. I finally came across the best solution for all types of buttons. Using small beads, 3-hole spacers and wire, I was able to construct a stylish bracelet for the buttons. Because I like the look of graduated sizes, I was also able to use a greater variety of buttons for each bracelet.

Mind you, the rare Bakelite button, the intricately carved buttons are very expensive, so cost-wise it made no sense. I picked a moderately-priced button or group of buttons, and I also incorporated other early plastics into some of the bracelets. The overall look is absolutely appealing--and never misses the eye of the customer. They are all also one-of-a-kind which is another appealing element!

Please take a look at the photos to see some samples.

I would like to continue for my next posting, Vintage glass buttons from the Czechoslovakian factories. Please keep an eye out.

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