Genuine Imitation
The great-great-grandfathers in the art of jewelry imitation lived in the 18th century. In 1732, England's Christopher Pinchbeck developed Pinchbeck gold from a mixture of copper, zinc and gold dust with results that could fool even the experts and a longevity that allows some of his pieces to still glitter today. In 1766, fellow Briton James Tassie developed a paste for copying cameos.

Seril Dodge made an American contribution in 1785 with the introduction of gold plate. The techniques in the creation of imitating jewelry remained largely unchanged until the advances of the industrial revolution caught up with the commercial demand and acceptance of costume jewelry. We now fast forward to the 1900's and the introduction of a brand new material that revolutionized consumables forever, plastic.

Leo Baekeland introduced to the U.S. market a heat-set synthetic called "Catalin" under the trademark of Bakelite. Bakelite was introduced as jewelry material at first to imitate natural materials such as amber and ivory.  It rapidly gained popularity due to light weight (which enabled large pieces), and the wide range of colors available. Jewelry could now be molded, carved, and intermingled with metals, rhinestones, glass, wood and semi-precious gems. Inexpensive by nature, it made designer styles available to the masses and helped bring a bit of much needed joy to Depression era budgets.   President Franklin D. Roosevelt's little dog Fala inspired a wide variety of plastic Scotty dog pins that became daily reminders for his "New Deal" and a promise of better things to come. Second World War shortages, including the lack of glass from Czechoslovakia, created an even greater demand for plastics. Brazilian Bombshell Carmen Miranda "chick-chick-a-boomed" right into America's hearts rattling as much Bakelite jewelry as she could pile on. Her films were some of the most popular musicals of the period. Portions of her movie's ticket sales were donated by her studio to purchase war bonds. While the public thankfully toned down her w-a-y over the top style, the correlation between Bakelite jewelry and "doing it for the boys" was undiluted.


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