Bakelite plastic debuted in the 1920s. Its heyday ended after World War II. Inexpensive, hand-carved Bakelite reminded customers of the Depression. With wartime rationing over, women coveted costume jewellery with rhinestones and metal backs, as well as precious stones. Collectors appreciate the mellow charm of Bakelite's patina. Most attempts at repair strip the desirable aged finish. Restore shine lost by prior attempts to strip the jewellery, but avoid radical repairs that alter the piece
- Skill level:
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Things you need
- Several soft cloths
- Mild dishwashing liquid
- Cotton swabs
- Simichrome or Turtle Wax
- Plastic adhesive, such as Krazy Glue
- Small glass bowl
- Acetone-free nail polish remover
Dip a soft cloth in mild soapy water. Wipe dull or stripped jewellery to remove surface dirt. Use cotton swabs to clean the small crevices of carved Bakelite, or to work around added wood or rhinestones.
Dry thoroughly with a soft cloth.
Apply dime-size portion of Simichrome or Turtle Wax onto a lint-free cloth or chamois.
Rub the piece and gently polish to a soft lustre.
Wiggle the pin back gently. If the pin back feels slightly loose, do not alter it. Collectors would rather have a pin in original condition if possible.
Add two tiny drops of glue onto the hardware if the pin back pulls away from the pin. Do this only if you plan to wear the pin, or if the pin's weight will cause the pin to split from the pin back. The risk of loss outweighs authenticity in this case.
Place the pin on a soft surface, pin side up, to dry.
Pour nonacetone nail polish remover into a small glass bowl.
Submerge the jewellery in the solution. After five minutes, check the Bakelite. Paint and lacquer added by a creative child or collector will dissolve. If paint does not fully dissolve, immerse the jewellery for five more minutes.
Rinse with lukewarm water, then blot the jewellery dry.
Evaluate cracks and scratches. Tiny surface scratches add to the Bakelite charm. Do not attempt to buff. Craze marks, or small surface scratches on the glaze, will not turn into a crack unless stressed by impact.
Retire Bakelite with deep splits from your wardrobe to keep the cracks from spreading. Use them as study pieces to learn about Bakelite or to visually admire instead.
Glue laminated pieces prudently. Laminated styles of Bakelite have many layers that can become separated by damage or deterioration. Add a few drops of plastic-appropriate glue between the layers on the pin backside or, in the case of bracelets, on the wrist side. Use adhesive only if complete deterioration is imminent.
Tips and warnings
- When you glue Bakelite pins the repair can make the piece less desirable to a collector, because the piece will have a tendency to split again or to warp. Warping is permanent. If a new pin back was clearly substituted for a vintage one, do not use it with the jewellery. Search for a suitable replacement among damaged Bakelite pins.
- Bakelite is a thermosetting plastic, a synthetic in which heat is used to mould the object's final shape. Once Bakelite has been heat set it cannot be melted down to reconstitute or repair it.
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