Antique & Estate Jewelry

The Whimsical Bakelite Jewels In Bonhams Curated Curiosities Sale

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The Roaring ’20s brought about many things—flappers, jazz bands, bathtub gin, and all-new jewelry category: Bakelite. A type of plastic that could be easily manipulated, mass-produced, and mimics real metals and stones, Bakelite was an accessible way for the spirited women of the time to add vibrancy—and some humor—to their wardrobes. Soon enough, it became the material of choice for prominent jewelry and fashion designers including Coco Chanel (who introduced her own line of Bakelite accessories in Paris in 1925) and Elsa Schiaparelli, among others.

Until the 1940s, Bakelite was everywhere; it was the breath of fresh air that women craved, thanks to both the radiance of the material itself and the breadth of designs it allowed. Today it’s beloved for all of the same reasons as well as its vintage appeal (people of the 21st century, it turns out, seek this same sense of freedom and personal expression).

Now, as part of Bonhams’ Curated Curiosities sale on Jan. 25 in Los Angeles, Bakelite jewels are taking center stage again, following the success of Bonhams’ 2022 Bakelite-dedicated auction that achieved approximately $250,000. Below, we’ve rounded up some of the most whimsical Bakelite pieces, part of a single-owner collection, that are set to hit the block.

Bakelite heart necklace
Heart necklace and an extra chain in Bakelite and celluloid,  estimate $500-$700

Just in time for Valentine’s day, this layered heart necklace (with three strands plus an extra) is the perfect example of the exuberance of Bakelite jewelry.

Bakelite brooches
Hat brooches in Bakelite, one with a celluloid ribbon, estimate $400–$600

These Bakelite hat brooches showcase petite and playful details like fruit and ribbon.

Bakelite bracelet
Serpent bracelet in Bakelite, estimate $300–$500

With its detailed carving, this hinged Serpent bracelet shows that Bakelite jewelry doesn’t always have to read so casual.

Bakelite necklace and bracelet
Raspberry necklace and bracelet set (also shown at top), estimate $3,000–$5,000

A particularly rare Bakelite set with raspberry clusters and translucent leaves, this necklace and bracelet showcase the elegant yet lively nature of Bakelite jewelry.

Photos courtesy of Bonhams

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By: Annie Davidson

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