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Fordite: A Jewel Made From Layers of Old Car Paint

Fordite, also known as Detroit agate, comes in bright colors and psychedelic swirls, and are often crafted into eye-catching jewelry. But fordite is not a gemstone, rather it is dried paint that built up, layer upon layer, in factories that painted automobiles long ago. Especially in Detroit, and hence the name.

Before painting cars became an automated process, they were spray-painted by hand. Overspray in the painting bays gradually accumulated on the tracks and skids on which vehicles rested while they were painted. Over time, hundreds of layers of paint in myriad colors would build up in the ovens where the cars’ paint was hardened under high heat. Eventually, the build-up paint would become obstructing, or too thick and heavy, and had to be removed. No one can say for sure when the enamel paint slag left the plants, but possibly some crafty workers with an eye for beauty took them home and fashioned them into beautiful jewels.

Unfortunately, the techniques that produced this great rough years ago, are no longer in practice. Automobiles today are painted by automated robotic arms and the chassis is electrostatically charged to attract the paint molecules, leaving little to no overspray. And because many of the plants that produced it have been razed to the ground, fordite is now hard to come by and jewelry made of this material has nostalgic appeal.

Aside from Detroit, fordite comes from several different places. Great Britain has some beautiful specimens that not only have the opaque colors, but metallic and transparency to some of the layers too. Detroit fordite usually has a gray primer layer between the vibrant colors. Ohio Fordite comes from the factories that painted vans, so the colors can be earth-tones of green and brown or the more vibrant colors of the 70s with yellow, orange and bright blues.

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