Is There Asbestos in Jewelry Boxes?

By Cristina M. in Health

Certain vintage products made mid-century attract collectors and hobbyists due to their form, design, and overall charm that calls for times at least 20 years away. Bakelite was one of the most used materials of those times, valued for its heat-resistant properties and for the fact that it did not conduct electricity.

While Bakelite became an invaluable material in electrical plugs and switches, sockets, and automotive disc brakes, the design industry also discovered the possibilities in the Bakelite: it can be manufactured in several utility and decor articles because it can be molded easily. But Bakelite was produced by mixing dangerous asbestos fibers with synthetic components to strengthen it, making the material risk to the health of everyone using items made from it.

Asbestos in the Vintage Bakelite Jewelry Collections and Bakelite Fashion Antiques

At first, Bakelite had only dark colors that hid the wood shavings and asbestos fibers used in its production. In the 1930s, the new Bakelite production formula made bright colors possible, along with the marbled designs and the translucent appearance - all favorable for jewelry making. The colorful synthetic jewelry we've seen our mothers and grandmothers wearing was made of Bakelite back in the day, representing a lurking asbestos exposure risk.

The peak of Bakelite jewelry making was in the late 1930s, until the end of the Art Deco period. It is when Art Deco jewelry knew its height thanks to the unique pieces made from the new formula Bakelite. A myriad of products invaded the fashion markets in infinite colors and shapes - all made from the new asbestos-containing material:

  • bracelets
  • necklaces
  • loop earrings
  • pendants
  • bangles
  • brooches

The vintage Bakelite accessories were in high demand in the fashion industry, exposing manufacturers and buyers to asbestos:

  • belt buckles
  • hairpins
  • hairclips
  • hatpins
  • buttons
  • cuff links

Nowadays, the same risk of asbestos exposure should be a caution sign to all collectors and vintage enthusiasts.

Decor Pieces Made From Bakelite Could Bring About the Chance of Exposure to Asbestos

The use of Bakelite caused a boom in the decor industry because it could be molded very quickly under heat and pressure. It made the production of identical items easy. Among the many decor pieces fabricated from Bakelite are the jewelry boxes from that era. They are often exquisite pieces in many vintage collections and valued home decorations. When Bakelite products become worn, they can break and release asbestos fibers into the air, posing the risk of ingestion or can be inhaled by someone close to them.

Because they were produced in molds, the vintage Bakelite boxes tend to be identical, but enthusiasts can make them unique and personalized with hand-carving or polishing. Giving old Bakelite boxes a new look can be risky - the process of carving and polishing by hand increases the possibility of sending asbestos fibers into the air. Vintage Bakelite products contain up to 5% amosite asbestos, which can become dangerous if disturbed. Regardless of the type, asbestos is always a hazard if the fibers become airborne and are inhaled or ingested.

Many old Bakelite jewelry pieces, boxes, and fashion accessories remain in use. While most of these objects were harmless back in the day when they were new, they could pose a risk of asbestos exposure today, as Bakelite plastic becomes friable over the years and can release toxic asbestos fibers. However, exposure to asbestos from vintage jewelry pieces, boxes, or accessories usually occurs in small amounts. It is advisable to be aware of all the risks that asbestos can pose in our home environment, as no quantity of asbestos is safe to inhale or ingest.

Why Should I Test Products in My Home for Asbestos?

It is often impossible to tell whether asbestos is embedded in a material, as the fibers are too small to be observed with the naked eye. Exposure to asbestos is responsible for serious respiratory conditions, so thorough testing is required to ensure your home is asbestos-free.