How to Identify Bakelite Jewelry

by Contributor

How to Identify Bakelite Jewelry. If you are a collector of Bakelite jewelry, or just enjoy wearing it occasionally, it is important to identify Bakelite jewelry from the many imitations that are available. This highly collectible jewelry became popular in the 1930s and was sold throughout the 1940s. Bakelite jewelry, made from a phenolic resin, has several distinct characteristics that make it easier to identify from other plastic jewelry.

Items you will need

  • Jewelry
  • Formula 409 cleaner
  • Cotton swab
  • Simichrome polish
  • Clean soft cloth
  • Jeweler's loupe or magnifying glass
Step 1

Tap two pieces of Bakelite jewelry together and they make a deep clunking sound, unlike other plastic jewelry that makes a higher pitched, dull sound.

Step 2

Feel the jewelry piece to see if it feels heavier than another similar sized piece of jewelry. Bakelite is denser which makes it feel heavier.

Step 3

Hold the piece of jewelry in your hand and vigorously rub your thumb on the plastic until it heats up and gets warm from the friction. Immediately put the jewelry to your nose and smell it. If it is true Bakelite, you will notice a smell very much like the formaldehyde.

Step 4

Apply a small amount Simichrome polish to a clean soft cloth and rubbed very gently on the back or the inside of the jewelry piece you're testing. The cloth will turn yellow if the piece is made of Bakelite. However, this test will not be accurate on black Bakelite or lacquered pieces.

Step 5

Use formula 409 cleaner on the end of a cotton swab and rub it on the inside or back of the item very gently. The cotton swab will turn yellow if the jewelry item is Bakelite. Black Bakelite, or lacquered pieces will not turn the cotton swab yellow.

Step 6

Look through a jeweler's loupe or a magnifying glass for any wear or tiny scratches on the surface of the jewelry piece. Check for tiny chips that may have occurred along the edges of the carvings, or jewelry piece itself. Usually a Bakelite piece will show some signs of where or minor scratching. Make sure the overall patina does not appear new.

Step 7

Combine two or more of the Bakelite authentication tests to be sure that the piece of jewelry is, or is not, Bakelite.

Tips

  • Run the jewelry piece under very very hot water and smell. If it is Bakelite, you will smell an oder like formaldehyde.

Warnings

  • Never use the hot pin test on any piece of jewelry, as it can cause permanent damage to many jewelry types. A piece of jewelry that is marked either Galalith or French Bakelite, is not made from Bakelite at all. It is an early type of plastic that was made from milk protein.