10+ Styles: Vintage & Retro Plastic Jewelry (Bakelite, Acrylic)

Written by Lucia
10+ Styles: Vintage & Retro Plastic Jewelry (Bakelite, Acrylic)

Hero: 60s pastel retro acrylic studs on Etsy: Ollijewelry

It might be new to you but in fact, vintage bakelite jewelry is a fashion statement that has been popular for over 100 years.

During the Art Deco period from 1909 to 1940s, vintage bakelite jewelry was used as an affordable way to accessorize outfits and add flair to clothing.

Even today, vintage bakelite jewelry continues to be a sought-after item thanks to its durability and eye-catching design. But as for retro and modern designs, the material of choice is usually acrylic as it allows for wider range of finishes and patterns.

90s retro chunky acrylic rings on Etsy: JIMMINIco

History of plastic jewelry

From its beginnings in the 1920s, Bakelite ushered in a revolution of fashion into plastic. By the 1950s, there was a wide range of designs. From eye-catching marbled shades to intricate carved shapes and bold patterns like polka dots and chevrons, it provided affordability with style that couldn’t be found elsewhere.

Art deco retro acrylic dangles on Etsy: SunnieCreative

This eventually created an overwhelming wave of plastic products which followed on from Galalith for use within clothing - nylon, polyester spandex being just some examples!

80s retro acrylic dangles on Etsy: Combinist

Ultimately these materials allowed designers far greater scope to design pieces than Bakelite ever could. This meant that Bakelite jewelry quickly became a thing of the past; more fabric options came along with improved durability and breathability whilst keeping light-weight and crease free at much lower cost than natural fabrics.

The 1960s and 1970s saw another wave of plastic jewelry, albeit made of more modern materials. The popularity was due to the unique look of plastic jewelry. It was like nothing else on the market and offered something different than the classic feminine vibe.

70s retro acrylic hoops on Etsy: Ollijewelry

The colors could be either bright and patterned or boldly pastel, and creative shapes appealed to fashion-forward people who wanted to make a statement with their accessories.

Why is vintage Bakelite jewelry so expensive?

To put it simply, Bakelite jewelry is expensive because it was popular during the Art Deco period, which was a long time ago. Art deco was an era in the first two decades of the 20th century, so if you’re after some art deco plastic jewelry, you will be looking for items that are at least hundred years old by now.

70s true vintage bakelite bangles on Etsy: IloveretroStore

That is proper vintage, which means it is hard to find these items, especially those in good condition, and new ones are not made anymore. So vintage bakelite jewelry is expensive because it is rare and unique, and you can’t easily get it. The law of the marketplace!

30s true vintage bakelite hoops on Etsy: TheGildedGriffin

I am sure some fashion admirers are ready to be put off by the fact that you’re paying an upscale price tag for - basically - a piece of plastic. But consider the story behind it! In the art deco period, plastic jewelry was seen as something revolutionary. It is on par with what happened in the late 60s with the Moon landing, or with the Internet in the 90s.

70s true vintage bakelite bangle on Etsy: ceiltiques

The fact that vintage bakelite jewelry has survived for so long makes it even more valuable as a collectible item. Bakelite was created to last, so vintage pieces are still in good condition 100 years later, which adds to their value.

70s true vintage couture bakelite ring on Etsy: ConcreteMelange

All of this means that vintage bakelite jewelry is a luxury item, with its rarity and vintage charm making it an exclusive collector’s item. The demand for vintage bakelite jewelry remains high, so prices stay high as well. But collectors and fashionistas alike can still enjoy vintage bakelite jewelry, if they are willing to pay the price.