Splendette wouldn’t even exist without the glorious material that is Bakelite. The ‘material of a thousand uses’ revolutionised the 20th century, from personal fashion to the home, there was nothing that Bakelite could not do. Without it, we wouldn’t have half the bangles we do and now with modern ‘fakelite’ we can be inspired into new decades of stacking and styling.
Bakelite was invented in 1907 by experimental chemist Leo Hendric Baekeland, and is the first truly synthetic plastic. Previously, celluloid had been used by various designers to various effects, but technically, as it was made by modifying natural materials via heat and pressure, it was not a true synthetic plastic. Forty years after celluloid was invented, the new and improved Bakelite came along and truly revolutionised the plastic world.
Baekeland designed Bakelite to be mass produced, which not only meant that companies could make large quantities of a product, but it could also be made cheaply. Bakelite was the convenient alternative to other forms of jewellery, household goods and even car parts which meant that everyone could have a slice of the pie. This was especially important for the market during the 1930s and early 1940s when the Great Depression and the Second World War were making life bleak. When you couldn’t buy an entire new outfit to cheer yourself up, you could improve an existing one with new Bakelite buttons, bangles and brooches.
As Bakelite became more expensive to produce during the Second World War (as a result of materials being used for the war effort), other inventors scrambled to take the top spot of the plastic world. By the 1950s Bakelite was becoming less popular, and eventually took a back seat as alternatives came onto the market.
There was one downside to the original Bakelite though: colour. Pure Bakelite was an amber colour and can take colour quite well. However, the colour additions made the Bakelite quite brittle and thus needed to be stabilised with a filling substance, often sawdust. This made the Bakelite duller, more opaque and the colours less vivid. The most popular colours of Bakelite were browns, blacks, reds, greens, yellows and white; brighter colours were made from alternative plastics such as Catalin who came to the market in 1927 after the patent for Bakelite expired. Splendette’s Heavy Carve collection from SS18 is much more suited to those who want the 1930s and 1940s, pre-patinated Bakelite look from your vintage inspired jewellery, where as the newer SS22 Heavy Carve collection as well as the Tortoiseshell jewellery has more of a brighter Catalin style to it.
The process to create Bakelite bangles is something that Splendette was also keen to emulate. Whereas a lot of mass-produced costume jewellery starts life by being poured into intricately carved moulds, Splendette’s fakelite jewellery is hand carved individually just like they did with Bakelite bangles, earrings, brooches and necklaces almost 100 years ago. This way we keep the traditions and techniques alive, as well as making each piece a little bit unique.
Jewellery is probably the most long lasting artefact from the golden age of Bakelite. Toasters, radios and light switches were replaced as newer alternatives came on the market, but there is something forever nostalgic about jewellery, especially costume jewellery. It is something we have all owned, inherited or found in the bottom of dressing up boxes as children. It’s often the first jewellery we own because of the affordability, and as a result there is a certain amount of sentimentality surrounding it.
Bakelite items have continued to be popular with vintage and antique collectors across the world, but they are getting rarer to come by, with an ever increasing price tag. Pieces of red Bakelite are particularly popular and particularly expensive! Although we would never claim to sell original Bakelite, Splendette’s fakelite jewellery does emulate the affordability of Bakelite and is designed with vintage inspiration to brighten up any and all outfits.