Bakelite Jewelry and How to Test It?

Bakelite Jewelry and How to Test It?

by Preston Reuther

There are various types of jewelry that one can use to add a touch of glamor and color. One set of collectible jewelry that Art Deco lovers usually pay a lot of money for is made from Bakelite. Bakelite was accidently invented by Dr. Leo H. Baekeland around 1907 when he wasexperimenting with varnish. He was mixing phenol and formaldehyde under heat and pressure and ended up with a hard plastic, the first made from synthetic polymers.


Properties of Bakelite

Bakelite is hard, durable, does not conduct electricity, and is heat resistant. Once cast, it retains its shape. This means that it cannot be reheated to change its shape or remold it. Instead it was extruded in rough shapes and then artisans worked on the rough mold, producing a variety of objects from it. It had many uses including being used in old radios. At one time, the US Treasury even considered minting coins with it during the copper shortage of the Second World War.


Bakelite Jewelry

Once Bakelite production techniques improved, jewelry manufacturers were able to produce it in many colors. This included ivory, amber, red and so on. At this point jewelry manufacturers started making many intricate jewelry designs using Bakelite. The craftsmen used the unfinished extruded Bakelite and carved their own unique designs on to them. As Bakelite jewelry was produced by hand instead of being poured into a mold, it was possible to produce limited edition jewelry patterns and designs as well.


Varieties of Bakelite Jewelry

One can find a variety of Bakelite jewelry items such as bracelets, necklaces, broaches, earrings, finger rings, and so on. The jewelry was made in a variety of colors to imitate ivory, coral, amber, jade, and other precious and semi-precious gems. They were much sought after even when they were first made and are now collector’s items priced from $20 to as high as $4,000 in some instances for the really rare Bakelite pieces.


Value of Bakelite Jewelry

Original Bakelite jewelry is much sought after by collectors of Art Deco objects and jewelry. The price of a piece depends on the intricacy of the workmanship, the way it has been preserved, and the rarity of a particular jewelry design. So the value of Bakelite jewelry changes from year to year depending on scarcity.


Imitation Bakelite

As with any object that is a collectible and has an increased value, there are spurious and imitation pieces available in the market as well. Some of the products are made of celluloid and are inflammable. Others pieces of Bakelite jewelry are made from recycled Bakelite. This means that though the product is made from genuine Bakelite, it has been crafted recently and is not as valuable as the older ones. If you are a collector of Bakelite  jewelry you need to know how to identify the genuine pieces so that you are not cheated.



With a Pin

As Bakelite is resistant to heat, one can heat a pin and pierce the jewelry with it. If the jewelry is genuine Bakelite, the pin will be unable to penetrate the jewelry. However, you need to wear gloves and be careful when attempting this test since celluloid will burst into flame if the same test is applied to it. As such this is a test that should be used as a last resort.


Smell Test

One can also apply the heat test to jewelry if the seller claims it is Bakelite. Just rub the jewelry vigorously with your thumb until it is warm and smell the piece. If it smells of formaldehyde, then it is likely to be Bakelite. And the smell is very strong so you won’t be able to miss it! Smells very much like the chemical it is made with formaldehyde.


Formula 409 Test

If you are planning to purchase Bakelite jewelry regularly, you need to stock up on Formula 409 and some Q tips. When you want to test a piece of bakelite jewelry, first clean its surface with a damp cloth to remove dust and grime. Next dip a Q tip in Formula 409 and gently rub the tip on the inside or less visible side of the jewelry. If the product is made from Bakelite, the Q tip will become pale yellow  even if the color of the jewelry is red or blue. Once you have determined the material, be sure to quickly and completely remove all traces of the formula before it damages the piece.


With Semi Chrome

 Semi Chrome is another material that can be used to test for the authenticity of Bakelite jewelry. The major advantage with using semi chrome is that it only cleans the jewelry and does not damage it. Before you apply the semi chrome, clean the jewelry you want to test with a damp cloth. Once all the dust has been removed, gently apply some semi chrome to a soft cloth and use it to clean the jewelry. The patina will be removed and the jewelry will look bright and clean. The cloth should be tinged pale yellow or ivory even if the jewelry is colored green, blue, or red.


Old vs. New Bakelite Jewelry

While the tests described above will ensure that you can spot genuine Bakelite jewelry, you still need to find out if the jewelry is old or has been made recently. This can be determined by looking at the metal fittings and the finish of the product. Older Bakelite jewelry will have metal fittings that are fixed using screws. However, the newer ones will have the metal fittings embedded in the Bakelite or pasted on using glue. Another way of checking for the age of the Bakelite jewelry is to look at the finish.

In the older pieces, the craftsman would have finished the rough edges only in areas where it would be visible when worn. The underside will continue to have rough edges. Satellite images However, the newer models will have a smooth finish throughout.

If you are planning to start collecting Bakelite jewelry, you need to first familiarize yourself with the ways in which these can be identified using simple tests. This will ensure that you pay the right amount for each piece that you purchase and end up with an incredibly valuable collection of vintage Bakelite jewelry!




by Preston Reuther


Zeus, (photo of Zeus Cameo Above) was the son of Cronus and Rhea, he was the Master ruler of Mount Olympus and of the gods who lived there. As the ultimate ruler he upheld law, justice and morals, and was also the spiritual leader of both gods and men. Zeus was originally worshiped as a god that controlled the weather by the Greeks. He has always been associated as being a weather god, as his main weapon is the thunderbolt as he controlled the thunder, lightning, and rain of the sky’s.

The name Zeus is related to the Greek word dios, meaning “bright”. His other attributes as well as lightning were the scepter, the eagle and his Aegis (a goat skin). (This is why many times you will see Zeuse on a shell cameo with an eagle somewhere on the cameo)

NOTE:The Eagle can even be alone on the cameo without the image of Zeus.

Zeus was the protector of the king and his family. Once the age of Greek kings faded into democracy he became chief judge, but most importantly civic god. Zeus was also known as overseer of the city. His duties in this role was to maintain the laws, protect suppliants, to bring the festivals and to give prophecies. As the Major deity Zeus oversaw civilized life. But the father of all gods and all men” has many other stories about him.


The most famous was of how Zeus usurped the kingdom of the immortals from his father. This mythological tale of Zeus’ struggle against the Titans had been caused by Cronus, after he had been warned that one of his children would depose him. To prevent this from happening Cronus swallowed his newborn children, but his wife Rhea, also his sister, and Gala her mother, wrapped a rock in swaddling clothes in place of the infant Zeus. Cronus thought it was the newborn baby swallowed the rock. Meanwhile Rhea had her baby taken to Crete, and there, in a cave and the divine goat Amaltheia raised the child.

When Zeus had grown into a young man he returned to his father’s kingdom, and with the help of Gaia, compelled Cronus to regurgitate the five children he had swallowed. Zeus then led the revolt against his father and the dynasty of the Titans, defeated and then banished them.

Once Zeus had control, he and his brothers divided the entire world between them: Zeus gaining the heavens, Poseidon the sea and Hades the underworld. Zeus had to defend his heavenly kingdom. The three attacks were from the offspring of Gaia: they were the Giganties, Typhon. Zeus fought them with his thunder-bolt, aegis and the twin brothers who were called the Aloada. The latter tried to gain access to the heavens by stacking Mount Ossa on top of Mount Olympus, and Mount Pelion on top of Mount Ossa, but they failed in their attempt to overthrow Zeus. So Zeus banished them all to Tartarus, which is the lowest area of earth even lower than the underworld.

Gaia warned Zeus that Metis would bear a daughter, whose son would overthrow him. On hearing this Zeus swallowed Metis, the reason for this was to continue to carry the child through to the birth himself. Hera (his wife and sister) was outraged and jealous of her husband’s affair, also of his ability to give birth without female participation. To spite Zeus she gave birth to Hephaest (without being fertilized) and it was Hephaestus who split open the head of Zeus, from which Athena emerged with a suit of armour.

Zeus had numerous liaisons with both goddesses and mortals. He either raped them, or used other means to seduce the unsuspecting women. His union with Leto brought  the twins Apollo and Artemis. Once again Hera was jealous and by forcing Leto to roam the earth in search of a place to give birth, as Hera had stopped her from gaining shelter on terra-firma or at sea. The only place she could go was to the isle of Delos a floating island.

Zeus used devious disguises. When he seduced the Spartan queen Leda, he transformed himself into a beautiful swan,

(Many times a cameo will have zeus portrayed on the cameo)

and from the egg which Leda produced, two sets of twins were born: Zeus also took as a lover the Trojan prince Ganymede. He was abducted by an eagle sent by Zeus (some legends believe it was Zeus disguised as an eagle). The prince was taken to Mount Olympus, where he became Zeus’ cup-bearer. Zeus promised Semele, that he would reveal himself in order to seduce her, the union produced Dionysus, but she was destroyed when Zeus appeared as thunder and lightning.

Themis the goddess of justice bore Horae, goddesses of the seasons to Zeus, and also the three Moirae and when Zeus had an affair with Mnemosyne he layed with her for nine nights, which produced nine daughters, who became known as the Muses.(A theme used in many shell cameos)

Zeus had many Temples and festivals in his honor, the most famous of his sanctuaries being Olympia, the magnificent “Temple of Zeus”, which held the gold and ivory statue of the enthroned Zeus, sculpted by Phidias and hailed as one of the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World”.

NOTE ON ZEUS SHELL CAMEOS: Zeus was usually portrayed as bearded, middle aged but with a youthful figure. (MUSCULAR) He would look very regal and imposing. Artists always tried to reproduce the power of Zeus in their work, usually by giving him a pose as he is about to throw his bolt of lightening. There are many statues of Zeus, but without doubt the Artemisium Zeus and can now be seen in Athens National Archaeological Museum.


Preston Reuther is a Master Wire Sculptor that has been collecting, showing and selling historical figures on shell cameo jewelry for over 20 years. He has written several e-books and produced over 34 jewelry making DVDs. Aerial maps Written over 1000 articles on the jewelry design process. Visit his cameo collection at or Contact Us at 816-689-2779 ******************************************************************************************************

Tags: , , ,

“A Lady and her horse”

As a cameo addict, collector and dealer when I saw this cameo I just had to have it!  Beside the beuty of the carving and the setting I knew there was a special story about it. I got the cameo (didn’t tell my wife) But as of yet I have not found the story behind it but I am still looking for it.

“The Lady and Her Horse”

adsense account ban similar sites .