Bakelite or not?

This is my second post in a series about Bakelite. I had planned to write first about Bakelite jewelry styles, but a lot of you asked me about recognizing Bakelite, so I'll write about that first. (You can read my introduction to Bakelite here.)

Is it Bakelite or not?


If you see seams in the plastic or mould markings it definitely is NOT Bakelite. In the finishing process these were removed. The surface is generally very smooth, even after wear. Even if a bangle has been treated unkindly (on flea markets I often find them in boxes thrown together with other stuff) it will usually have a smooth patina of tiny little scratches.

In case of a bigger deeper scratch (ouch!) it will show the same solid underlying colour.
White Bakelite tends to get more cream coloured over the years. So if you find a sparkly bright white vintage 'Bakelite' piece: beware, and make sure you test it by other methods.

Holding it in you hands:

Bakelite is heavier than most modern plastics, and feels more clunky. When you tap two Bakelite bracelets together they will make a *clack* sound, rather than a *click* sound.

Test 1: the hot water test

When you hold a piece of Bakelite under hot running water for about 10 seconds you should smell the phenol. This is a really distinctive chemical smell.
- be careful doing this if the item could be celluloid (which is much lighter in weight). Celluloid does not respond well to extreme temperatures.
- also be careful not to get the back pins, clasps etcetera wet
- if it smells like burnt milk the material is Galalith (another early plastic)
- if it has no smell it is probably lucite or acrylic

Test 2: simichrome

Simichrome is a metal polish that reacts to the phenol in Bakelite. This chemical process makes the pink simichrome paste turn yellow. If the paste turns dark brown it means you are just rubbing of dirt, and you should clean the piece before testing. The colour should be bright yellow.
Side notes:
- Not all Bakelite might test positive. Especially black colours don't always react.
- But: if it turns yellow it IS Bakelite. It could be a modern or a vintage piece. I'll tell you more about jewelry in the next post.

Simichrome is not available in stores in The Netherlands. You can find it on eBay but it will cost you a lot on shipping (the tubes do not fit through the letterbox) and on custom taxes. Since you only need a tiny bit to test it is a good deal to buy the Bakelite Testing Kit from ThePlaidThermos.

It could be your beautiful vintage early plastic piece is not Bakelite. That does not make it less beautiful. It just makes it not-Bakelite.

For the Dutch readers: I am planning a testing session for your possibly Bakelite items in our Etsy Shops Leiden pop up shop. There is not a date set as yet. If you want to kept updated about the event, please follow us on our Facebook page.

The green bracelets in the top photo are among the Bakelite items for sale in my Etsy Shop AllFairness.


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