MINERAL OF THE MONTH: April 2018 – Fordite

Fordite, also known as Detroit agate or Motor Agate, is not actually a rock or a mineral. However, it is used in lapidary to make amazing pieces of jewelry, some of which sell for hundreds of dollars. Fordite is actually old automobile paint which has hardened into layers. Decades ago, the process used to paint automobiles was different than it is today. Back then cars were hand sprayed. The color used in the spray booth changed as the production schedule changed. Layers of the enamel paint built up on the tracks and skids on which the car frames were painted. The layers of oversprayed paint became hardened when the car bodies went into ovens to cure the paint. When the build up of paint became too thick, it was removed and discarded.

The original decades-old “Fordite” often display incredibly beautiful and complex, agate-like layers. Eventually people realized these beautiful slag-like layers were patterned like psychedelic agate and could be cut and polished into jewelry.

This spray process has now been automated with an electrostatic process that essentially magnetizes the enamels to the car bodies. This leaves little overspray. 

Some say Fordite is no longer produced in car factories, but this is not true. A customer came into my museum who has the job of cleaning the electrostatic painting equipment to remove the still accumulating layers of paint on the equipment. Although much of the modern paint layers are not as colorful as those from decades ago, there is still some jewelry-compatible material being scraped off car painting equipment. In some cases, this new material offers interesting shapes instead of bizarre colors.

Also, some people are making their own Fordite by layering and baking enamel paints in their studios.

If you have acquired a piece of Fordite jewelry, keep in mind that it is a relatively soft material. However, if you do see scratches on the surface of the Fordite, pull out your car wax and a 100 percent cotton cloth and give it a good shine!

Thanks goes to Kyle Koskinen for his photos, video, and samples. I am hoping to find room in the museum to create a “Fordite” display for the 2018 summer season.


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