Thursday, November 6, 2014

Fordite - The Origins of "Detroit Agate"

At first glance, this brilliantly colorful gemstone might look like agate, a stone valued for its beauty and used in the jewelry industry.  It's a gemstone that holds deep, personal memories for me because my Mom collected them. The origin of this stone, however, might surprise you – these stones, called Fordite or Detroit Agate, are actually paint deposits from old Detroit car paintings racks.

Until  recently, automotive bodies were painted by hand on long production lines. The vehicles’ paint would drip off and dry on the equipment used to move the automotive bodies. This enamel paint would then get baked onto the rack and solidify. You can imagine that as if this process is repeated hundreds or thousands of times, the deposits will, layer upon layer,grow until they are several inches thick, the layers indicative of the popular paint colors of that time.
Enterprising workers who noted the beauty and perhaps the value of these remnants of paint, chipped off these waste products and saved them, some crafting them, some selling them to those who would craft.  When these stones are ground down and polished, they reveal a dazzling array of colors, some vivid, some more muted, but till beautiful.

The colors indeed represent America's automotive history- the older Fordite specimens contain colors that are no longer popular today, like pastel yellow or sea-foam green. Mine has more muted colors to match the color of clothing I usually wear.  My fashion sense is sort of Hee Haw meets Swat, but it works for me.

Although modern jewelers are moderately successful at recreating the process and creating their own Fordite, the stones with an actual history to them are the most valuable and I was truly lucky to get this hand crafted one from Partner in Grime for our first Wedding Anniversary  (he thought first year was Paint not Paper :-)


  1. Really stunning!

    Where did he buy it?

    He can email me directly if he doesn't want you to know....:-)

  2. Dr Jim - he found it on Etsy, and got the chain at Hobby Lobby. I'll ask him tonight if he remembers the site.

  3. I have a couple of peaces of "Flintite" a similar "agate" created on the paint lines of AC Sparkplug. The more artistic of us occasionally broke off a chuck and made various peaces of jewelry. That would be around 44 years ago. :-)

  4. GreyBeard - you were indeed, a gifted child :-) thanks for the note.

  5. Interesting stuff. I love the story behind its formation. I found a bunch of it both polished and 'raw'. Some of it is very beautiful.

  6. Hee Haw meets SWAT. Love it.

    Paint,paper,petunias - he remembered the date. Give him the points.

  7. I still can't get over the fact HE WENT TO HOBBY LOBBY!! Have him pick up some beeswax next time!

  8. I loved collecting Agates when I lived in Minnesota as a kid but Fordite would be interesting to have too. and OMG LOL Hee Haw meets swat...thanks for the Friday morning Laugh.

  9. I would have never guessed it was paint - really is a spectacular piece!


  10. When I worked in the paint department at GM Willow Run, we used to take door lock knobs and hang them from the body carrier so they got multiple layers of paint like that.
    Then we'd sand and polish to get that effect, add an alligator clip and...
    Well, I'm wiser now.

  11. Very cool and unique. Lovely piece. Did he do the wire work himself?


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