Material Monday: Fordite

Material Monday: Fordite

Posted 5 December 2016 by Nirvana CPH

This week’s Material Monday we will be focusing on a stone-like construction that was accidentally created from layers of car paint from automobile factories. Brought to you by our regular contributor Seetal Solanki Director of Ma-tt-er.


Henry Ford said that “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

This philosophy definitely applies to Fordite which is also known as Detroit agate is formed from the buildup of layers from enamel paint. A hand spray-painting technique that was very common practice during the 1970s ago within the automotive industry but has now become extinct due to this process becoming automated using an electrostatic process that essentially magnetises the enamels to the car bodies, leaving little to no over-spray.

Like the naturally formed rings of agate, the colourful layers in each piece of Fordite have a story to tell. Some of the earliest pieces are comprised of mostly blacks and browns, the common paint colours of the time, but most Fordite available today reflects a wild array of paint colours. Some pieces have grey primer layers between the colourful strips, and others contain shiny particles of metallic paint. The most coveted appear to be older pieces from the Ford River Rouge Plant that might contain bright greens and oranges and also metallic colours.

According to there are four types of Fordite.

Type 1: is a combination of separated colours with regular grey banding of primer layer between colour layers.

Type 2: Colour on colour are opaques and metallics which are limited as they were created on special car runs during the manufacturing process.

Type 3: Colour on colour which is drippy and/ or striped, with multiple colour on colour layers, sometimes with metallics, containing lace and orbital patterns with occasional channeling.

Type 4: Colour on colour, opaques and metallics, with bleeding colour layers, sometimes containing pitting from air bubbles as the layers formed and hardened.

The paint overspray in the painting bays gradually built up on the tracks and skids that the car frames were painted on. The buildup of paint would become far too thick and then had to be removed. These layers were baked during this process up to a total of 100 times. It was known that some of the workers back in the 1970s realised the unique aesthetic qualities of this byproduct and started salvaging the pieces of Fordite.

It is now a highly sort after material that is reused for jewellery making. An opportunity that the automotive industry would not have realised during manufacturing. The opportunity lied within the workers preserving these precious ‘jewels’ and seeking opportunity after the failure of introducing a machine-based manufacturing system and continuing the life-cycle of this once harmful process into a resource.

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