Old Lucite, plastic, and Bakelite bangles and pins are quite collectible, and some can be valuable. They are collected as both investment pieces and to be worn as accessories. There are reproductions on the market, and newer pieces may be mistaken for old.
Old Lucite is dull and semitranslucent; you can see through it, although it appears cloudy. Old Lucite also tends to take on a yellow patina sometimes, and many pieces, especially bangles, are adorned with vintage rhinestones that are often prong set.
There is old jewelry made from plastic that is vintage but not made from Bakelite or Lucite. One such plastic is called acetate. This looks like a hard, colorful plastic but lacks the telltale patina that would distinguish it as Bakelite.
Bakelite is easy to identify because it has a slick-looking patina to the inner part of the bangle or on the back part of a brooch or piece. Bakelite can also be tested using the “hot water” method. Run the piece under hot tap water. If it gives off a formaldehyde smell, it is Bakelite.
Value of Old Plastic Jewelry
The value of Lucite jewelry ranges anywhere from $3 to $250, depending on rarity, beauty, type of piece and design. On old Bakelite, values range from low to moderate for polka dot bangles, deeply carved pieces and brooches. Values can go up to hundreds, even thousands, of dollars for rarer pieces, such as the ornately hinged, most notably, the vintage Philadelphia style clamper bangle. Old plastic is generally in the low market category and can range from $3 and up.
Eras of Old Plastic Jewelry
The 1930s to the 1950s was the era of Bakelite jewelry. The jewelry was made popular by entertainers such as Carmen Miranda. Bakelite makes a distinct sound when clicked together, and women wore the bangles stacked one on the other. Lucite and plastic are lighter than Bakelite and don't give off an odor when in hot sunlight, so these types of pieces, from the 1950s, were generally more popular in the summer.
Linda Stamberger began writing professionally in 1994, as an entertainment reporter for "Good Times Magazine." She has written online copy for The Volusia Community website and is the author of "Antiquing in Florida." Stamberger studied creative writing at Southampton College, where she won a partial writing scholarship.