3 Washington Notables Open Their Closets
By Ellen Ryan
The world's first synthetic plastic—technically, a thermosetting phenol formaldehyde resin— Bakelite had many industrial uses. The public knew it as the basis of toys, jewelry, and heatresistant kitchenware. Inexpensive, lightweight, and colorful, accessories by Bakelite (and other brand names) were enormously popular through the 1930s until World War II.
Davidov’s love of color led to an accomplished career as painter and a fashion illustrator. She holds a master’s in fine art from American University. She is also a writer whose work has appeared in The Washington Post and Lucire magazine, and she has designed sets for The Washington Ballet. Not surprisingly, she and her husband have collected such artistic objects as pottery, furniture, and sculpture.
“When Bakelite got big in the ’80s, I called Mother and said I’d like to have her bangles,” Davidov recalls. “She said, ‘Aren’t you glad I saved them all these years?’ ”
Collecting actively from the early 1980s to the early 2000s, Davidov reveled in wearing, displaying, and color-coordinating her pieces. She bought low, before most collectors got serious. One of her favorite items is what collectors call the “Philadelphia bracelet,” so named, according to Davidov, because of the “fierce competition” the pieces generated when two appeared at the Philadelphia Art Deco show in 1984. Hinged, striped, and laminated, it closes with a satisfying snap. In addition to its distinct design, both aesthetically and mechanically, the bracelet has all five Bakelite colors (highly unusual, according to Davidov). For all these reasons, it is unique and has generally sold for more than other Bakelite jewelry.
In 1988, she cowrote The Bakelite Jewelry Book, a detailed look at the material’s history, with Ginny Redington Dawes. “I was feeling guilty about spending money on plastic. That’s why I wrote the book,” she says. “It became known as the bible on Bakelite,” she says.
Seven years ago, Davidov divested herself of more than 100 classic Bakelites, mostly bangles and brooches, but also necklaces, dress clips, round boxes, and the occasional belt buckle, manicure set, and ring.
“I saved the hottest pieces,” she confides. “And those that had special meaning to me.” Among these: her mother’s pieces, and anything her children bought for her; cuff bracelets in boxes signed by dancer-actress Josephine Baker and other European performers from between the wars; a figural of President Roosevelt’s Scottie, Fala; handbags, including a green clutch with a carved fox handle and a black ostrich bag with a translucent amber-colored handle; and a charm bracelet of Monopoly figures—“a link to the past and the present,” she calls it.
Particularly popular with collectors are later bracelets featuring polka dots or bow-tie designs. Two such bangles sold at the 2005 auction for a combined $8,225.
In another nod to her past—the natural crystals she collected at a childhood home in Little Rock, Arkansas—Davidov has now created Rock Island Jewelry, a collection of rhinestone necklaces and bracelets that retail at Saks Jandel and were featured in a music video of Grammy nominee Nadia Ali. Davidov often combines styles from her new line with Bakelite pieces. “It’s all meant to be worn and enjoyed,” she says. “If you can’t see it, what’s the point?”
Celebrating the White House Correspondents’ Association’s annual dinner at Carnegie Library.