Thursday, 9 August 2018

Bakelite glorious Bakelite

We live in a world of alternatives, and Bakelite was one of the first major alternatives developed in the world of materials. The material was originally created to replace shellac and celluloid, and by extension all objects replicated by early plastics such as ivory, bone, metal and jade.

‎Bakelite was developed by the Belgian-American chemist Leo Baekeland in 1907 when he began to investigate the reactions of phenol and formaldehyde in his home laboratory. The first synthetic plastic, Bakelite was marketed as ‘The Material of a Thousand Uses’. The creation of a new synthetic plastic was a breakthrough due to the material’s electrical non-conductivity and heat resistance.

The Bakelite moulding process was both time and cost efficient as the mould could be removed from the process before cooling. The smooth polished surface that resulted meant that Bakelite objects required less finishing with millions of parts duplicated quickly and cheaply decreasing production time. Mouldings retain their shape and are resistant to heat, electricity, scratches, and solvents.

During World War I, Bakelite was used widely, particularly in electrical systems. Later on, as telephones and radios became common household consumer goods and the car industry developed, Bakelite was everywhere.

In its glory days of the 1930s and 1940s, it was an inexpensive alternative to high-end jewellery imitating natural materials such as jade and pearl. In the early 1920s, it became popular in the fashion world, when Coco Chanel used Bakelite bracelets in her costume jewellery collections. Elsa Schiaparelli also adopted Bakelite accessories as an alternative to naturally sourced materials and Breitling used Bakelite for presentation boxes for their watches.

By the 1930s, Bakelite was used in games like chess and dominoes and for poker chips. Easier and lighter than its alternatives and in a variety of colours and shapes, Bakelite offered designers a creative edge.  During World War II, Bakelite was still going strong. It was used in wartime equipment including pilot's goggles and field telephones, and even for patriotic wartime jewellery! In the 1950s it began to decline in popularity as cheaper and higher quality plastics became available.

Recently, it has assumed a cult status and objects are fashionable and collectable. Bakelite in its various styles and shapes is displayed in museums and sold by specialists and auctioneers. The appeal of Bakelite items is simultaneously nostalgic and contemporary- it represents an era of increasing affluence and modernisation, as consumers took advantage of previously out-of-reach fashion and consumer goods.

We’ve put together a selection of Bakelite items available at Alfies.

Bakelite jewellery - bangles, brooches, dress clips etc, available from Gillian Horsup Vintage Jewellery

A selection of bakelite items at Paola & Iaia's stand

A selection of bakelite items at Paola & Iaia's stand

Art Deco bakelite table light, available from Thirteen Interiors
Pyramid 1929 Bakelite Telephone, available from Thirteen Interiors

Written by Titika Malkogeorgou

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...