Thursday, November 29, 2012

Provenance Unknown

I have been keeping (well, hoarding) this beautiful painted bakelite moth inlaid with rhinestones for quite a while.  But now that the holidays are on us, I am having a sparkle attack. Trouble is, I know nothing at all about this piece. It came to me roughly repaired with crack just the right of center. Was that where the comb or brooch fixture was removed? We'll never know.

What do we know? It is bakelite, and faux tortoise shell, with picque treatment not unlike antique tortoise shell pieces. Look closely and see an incised design with green in it, possibly once metallic paint.  All the rhinestones are intact, but some have gone dark (a look I love, so rich, so nuanced).  It is molded.  So it is definitely bakelite because the galalaith ("French bakelite") doesn't mold.  It is carved.  The design puts it somewhere close to Art Deco.  The workmanship is definitely European, most likely French.  I fantasize a producer who moved from tortoise shell (a cruel industry) crafting to Bakelite, treating the material in much the same way. After all, technically, both are resin.

What did I do? First removed the ham fisted glob of unidentifiable glue that served as an erstwhile patch, and inspected the break. Not too bad, but must remember that if I use the piece as a pendant, that area is weak and the crack could spread.  So, in a bricolage fashion, I used watch crystal cement to seal the crack, and once cured, papered over the area with antique text soaked in resin.  I then wired a harness to the piece that would hold the grand old boullion tassel and a rope of old stock glass pearls and Swarovski crystals.  I then papered over that.  Voila!  A flapper's sautoir, of tiny pearls and crystals recycled from abandoned jewelry, right down to the nice spring loaded catch, many, many knots later.

Here's a close up of the repair, the harness, and the antique text. Sometimes random words out of context can be so provoking. I love it when that happens.

I think the tassel and rope of pearls are just right with this beautiful antique, which I prefer to think of as a moth.  Velvet wings, jewel colors, small spangles reflecting a lone lantern, etc.; very romantic. Go ahead, invite the sheik into your tent. You are young only once in this life!  So wear this with your satin chemise and dancing pumps to the Hot Club de France, and don't skimp on the toddy.  And click the link, it's Django Reinhardt, probably the most influential jazz guitarist of the 20th century, burning the air with his rendition of "Sheik of Araby."  Now, are you in the mood to party?


  1. I love this flapper's sautoir!! Can the moth be carved out of horn? Tortoise shell? I've read somewhere a tip to recognize it, must be somewhere, I'll come back to you if I found it again

  2. I tested it for Bakelite and that is what it is. Horn can be identified by feel and visually, as it usually has striations in it. When you wipe a Bakelite piece with just a little Windex on a cloth, if offgases a formaldehyde smell, and that is diagnostic. Glad you like it, Lucie!

  3. Brilliant fix and even more brilliant piece. I can't believe you can let it go!

  4. Aw, shucks, ma'am! I love to share the beauty, and getting paid is nice, too.

  5. beautiful...I’d keep it to( at least for awhile)...also simichrome rubbed onto bakelite with a Q-Tip should turn yellow...if it stays pink (the color of the simichrome) it is not bakelite... Never seen bakelite so embellished...lucky you...nice repair..and love the tassel...xxc

  6. i love how you doubled the strand in the 1st mannequin pic. this really is a gorgeous girly piece of 'frippery' as you call it. hooray for selling it faster than i could even fave it! give my love to abbie.