Galalith – the milk stone revival
Galalith is a synthetic material processed from a natural polymer named casein extracted from skimmed milk or soybeans. The name Galalith originated from the Greek words, Gala and Lithos, respectively meaning Milk and Stone. Hence, it is also called milk stone.
In 1897 Galalith was produced for the first time by its inventors, Adolph Spitteler and Wilhelm Kirsche. Initially, the casein is cured. With the help of pressure and the addition of heat, it is then concentrated with dye and filler until it fuses to a homogeneous mixture. By squeezing the mixture it can be formed into various shapes. Finally, using a formaldehyde concentration, these sheets are hardened, with this process lasting up to several months.
In the 20th century Galalith was produced in sheets, blanks and rods, and was mainly used in the button- and jewelry industry. Hereby, Jakob Bengel was a bulk purchaser for his Art Deco Jewelry production.
But what has led to Galaliths popularity, particularly of that witnessed in the 20s, and what are its outstanding features?
The easy, inexpensive production and reprocessing, as well as the coloring and its fantastic look – all have contributed to a booming Galalith production. Furthermore, its wonderful, radiant colors, its Mohs hardness of 2,25 to 2,5 and also its elasticity supported the versatile usage of this material.
Galalith’s chemical and physical composition closely resembles that of natural horn and tortoiseshell. It can be cut, drilled, milled, engraved, soldered and colored in various colors echoing the nature horn. Additionally, the polishability and the non-inflammableness are superior characteristics of the Galalith.
Galalith was used until the 30s, resultant of the high levels of availability of Bakelite. However, following the Second World War and the increased popularity of cheaper alternatives such as mineral oil, Galaliths popularity lessened as other plastic were preferred, manifested in Galalith being driven from the market.
Today there are only a few Galalith manufactures which mainly produce steels and rods. Only with the help of those, the Jakob Bengel Art Deco Jewelry can be revived.