Feature / Galalith
Following on from our previous newsletter regarding Bakelite. The use of Casein or 'Galalith' as it is known in Europe, was also used extensively in wearable pieces of art in many decorative items such as picture frames and ornaments as well as jewellery.
Words by Bruna //
Galalith (from the Greek words gala meaning milk and lithos, stone) was discovered in 1897 when chemical engineer Adolph Spitteler and Wilhelm Kirsche found that blending formaldehyde with casein (a protein derived from milk) formed an extremely hard plastic. Galalith is a trade name for casein formaldehyde, which in Europe is known as galalith or in Britain, erinoid. It was soon learned that galalith lent itself easily to carving, cutting and decorating, and that when polished it takes a long-lasting lustre. For these reasons galalith began to be used predominantly throughout Europe in the production of buttons, dress clips, buckles, dressing table sets and jewellery.
From 1920 to the late 1940's, galalith played a starring role in the Art Deco style and can be found in some of the most innovative Deco jewellery of the era. Jewellery made during this period often featured interesting combinations of chrome, brass, bronze and enamels. The now widely renowned Jakob Bengel was one of the earliest jewellery deisgners to combine galalith with these other materials to form some unique and most collectable pieced of our time. While Bengel's style was somewhat geometric with an industrial edge, the French artisans who began working with galalith used techniques such as painting, carving and inlay to form more decorative and delicate figurative designs. Their style was a continuation of the Art Nouveau style which preceded Art Deco.
Like it's contemporary bakelite, galalith is no longer produced today and must be reworked by modern artisans from existing pieces. One notable artisan working with Galalith today is Marie-Christine Pavone. Born and based in France, Pavone is recognised as a master in her field and her beautifully handcrafted, whimsical pieces have been exhibited in the Pompidou Centre in Paris.
For the discerning collector, the appeal of galalith jewellery is obvious - the milky, vibrant colours, textures and the unique, timeless quality of pieces such as Pavone's famous animal pins and earrings will ensure galalith's collectability for years to come.
Queries or questions regarding our pieces are welcome.
I wish you many happy years of wearing and collecting!
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