The Crowned Jeweler

Bakelite expert Matt Burkholz shares his treasures of the vintage trade



Vintage jewelry guru Matt Burkholz, who owns Route 66 West in Palm Springs.

Photo by Ethan Kaminsky

 

For the past six years, vintage jewelry guru Matt Burkholz’s Palm Springs store, Route 66 West, has been the “it” destination for collectors from around the world.

In the business for more than 30 years, Burkholz has exhibited on the national show circuit since 1987 and has lectured on the history of 20th-century jewelry at the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, among other locations. He’s also written three books, including The Bakelite Collection, published in 1997 and considered the definitive work on Bakelite (castable fire-resistant plastic) jewelry, garnering Burkholz the nickname “The King of Bakelite.”

How did your love affair with jewelry begin?
My grandmother always had great, showy costume and fine jewelry. My grandfather, too — watches and cuff links — and my cousins had a costume jewelry shop at the Carillon Hotel in Miami Beach, where I grew up. 

What draws you to a particular piece?
Color, rarity, finesse, and sometimes humor. Bakelite jewelry is frequently quite whimsical and humorous in tone. There are dangling cherries, charms of schoolbooks, erasers, and pencils.

What’s been your biggest find?
When I moved from New York to California, I happened upon a major collection of vintage couture costume jewelry. It contained the most wonderful Chanel, Miriam Haskell, Coppola & Toppo, and Kenneth Jay Lane. I said “yes” to the hefty price, and in one fell swoop I had more top stuff than I had acquired in the prior five years.

What was your first vintage jewelry purchase?
A classic 1930s art deco Bakelite dangling cherries pin.

Who is your favorite jewelry designer?
I’m primarily known for selling the finest vintage Bakelite, celluloid, and acrylic costume jewelry anywhere. I also sell ’30s through ’70s vintage costume jewelry and ’80s through early 21st-century designer couture jewelry. Chanel from 2001 isn’t made anymore, so I sell things that are out of production and thus collectible. I love Chanel’s work, but I’m also a fan of Judith Hendler’s space-age acrylic jewelry from the ’70s and Haskell’s work in intricate baroque pearls, Venetian and Czechoslovakian glass, and Austrian rhinestones. Lacroix jewelry fascinates me too.

What draws you to the desert?
I first came to the desert when I did trade shows in Los Angeles, and then to Palm Springs for the first Modernism antiques show. I’ve done it every year since and am integrally involved with many aspects of Modernism Week. In 2014, I did the antiques show, co-produced Jet Set Style — the Modernism vintage fashion show — with Bill Miller, and directed a tour of architect Hugh Kaptur’s iconic homes. So, I’ve taken the town to heart, and I’m running with it! The draw: Glamour, weather, and a midcentury modern architecture lifestyle.

What is your favorite era for vintage jewelry?
I’m a late ’50s, early ’60s atomic-age/classic Hollywood glamour hybrid. Judy Jetson meets Lana Turner.

Comments to this website are moderated by staff. While all comments are welcome, we encourage all to be polite and please do use this system for advertising or business promotions. Any complaint towards a business or service should be directed directly to that business and not posted here. If anyone has a complaint that a comment is defamatory, please contact me at tmay@palmspringslife.com and I will take appropriate action promptly. Thank You

Add your comment:
Edit Module
Palm Springs Life
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Articles

Share the Cheer

Start your holiday retail therapy on Black Friday in the Coachella Valley with extended store hours, knockout discounts, and stellar sales. Here’s where to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list — and help others at the same time.

Carry the Cause

A unisex boutique in Palm Springs’ Uptown Design District lends help to local teenagers in distress.

What’s Old Is New

An upscale consignment boutique in Palm Desert is a dream setting for ladies who love high fashion.

Palm Springs Vintage Market is Midcentury Mecca

The Palm Springs Vintage Market gives mid-modern design and décor buffs another reason to visit downtown the first Sunday of each month during the season to find awesome retro finds.

Mod Options

While Palm Springs may be the epicenter of midcentury architecture — Perez Road in nearby Cathedral City beckons with its own set of treasures.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Promotions + Contests

Cartoon Caption Contest

Cartoon Caption Contest

Each month, we provide a vintage 1950’s cartoon illustrated by Alice Rovinsky. You are invited to submit a caption or vote for your favorite caption.
2014/15 Best of the Best

2014/15 Best of the Best

Palm Springs Life’s annual Best of the Best. Readers tell us who their choice is for the “Best of the Best” of the Coachella Valley in over 40 categories.