Discover Fordite, the Auto Industry's Secret Gem

Funky pieces created from Fordite made artistic use of upcycled industrial materials long before upcycling was all the rage.

Published July 17, 2023
2 fordite jewelries

Some motorheads like to wear car badges around their necks to show off their passion for the subject, and other unsuspecting folks carry around their own wearable pieces of automotive history. Crack open a jaw breaker and you've got the closest looking thing to Motor City agate, aka Fordite. Fordite is a faux gemstone that gives off that perfect mid-century audacity with its bright color schemes. And, as supplies grow slimmer, Fordite pieces are only going to get more and more valuable.

What's Detroit Fordite and How's It Made?

Fordite sounds like a mysterious gemstone you'd find deep in the recesses of a cool cavern, but its origins are far less natural. Take a trip back to the 1960s and 1970s, and imagine Motor City in its heyday. Pony cars in the coolest colors imaginable rolled off the Midwestern assembly lines in droves. While today, there are stronger restrictions and regulations on how cars are painted, the glittering finishes and electric coats from the 60s and 70s live on in Fordite pieces.

Basically, Fordite is a buildup of the baked chemical compounds that comprised this mid-century auto paint, which layered over time created a thick layer of banded acrylic. Think of it like peeling layers of graffiti or wallpaper off a wall. No one's sure who first realized you could take these excess shards and cut/polish them down into jewelry cuts to reveal beautiful agate-like color bands. But this taste of Motor City magic lives on in this popular jewelry style.

@jay_paintz #everlastinggobstopper #fordite #paint #fyp #fypシ #k18results #painthuffers #paintersmakeitwetter Pure Imagination - From "Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory" Soundtrack - Gene Wilder
Need to Know

Despite its name, Fordite has no direct connection to the Ford Motor Company.

Common Fordite Objects You Can Collect

Rack Cut True Fordite Pendant Thunderbird Lines Flow Cut

Fordite started as an underground art movement with artists and jewelers experimenting with how they could transform the material into something eye-catching. Common objects they created (and continue to create) include:

  • Rings
  • Pendants
  • Cufflinks
  • Worry stones
  • Earrings
  • Knives
  • Bottle openers

How Can You Tell Something's Fordite?

Based on appearances alone, someone could easily mistake a Fordite pendant hanging from your neck for a real crystal or stone. And while they share that same silky texture when polished that other stones do, there are a few tells that a 'stone' is actually Fordite.

  • It looks like the inside of a jawbreaker. Banded agate (which closely resembles Fordite) rarely has the layering density and rainbow of colors that Fordite does.
  • It's pretty lightweight for its size. Larger pieces of Fordite are comparatively lighter than similar-sized stones. This is all due to being just layers and layers of paint baked on top of one another.
  • It has dimpling or scratches on its face. Fordite is much softer than a lot of natural stones, which means that any pieces that are regularly worn are going to show their wear.

Can You Date Fordite?

1950's Fordite Necklace Pendant in sterling silver

Dating Fordite is an imprecise science where the only real information you have to go on is the color combinations you see. Older Fordite pieces (1940s-1950s) are usually full of neutral tones as that was what cars were painted with, and by the 1960s and 1970s, brighter colors and finishes were introduced.

How Much Is Vintage Fordite Worth?

Fordite is a finite resource. They don't paint cars like they used to nor with the same paint compounds they did 50 years ago. So, raw Fordite slags can be quite pricey. And the fully polished pieces placed into settings regularly go for $50 a pop. For example, this fiery Fordite pendant recently sold for $49.99 on eBay.

However, for how unique Fordite is, it's rare to see vintage pieces selling for over $100. This is generally reserved for huge pieces (like knives with Fordite tangs) or raw Fordite from the 1950s.

If you're looking to buy the raw materials, they can run you as little as $20, with the more shocking colorways hiking prices up higher.

Quick Tip

The highest level of authentication you can get is buying a piece with a sales history that stretches back to a specific model and manufacturer. These are often labeled with the car name in front of their listings.

The Art Rolls On

There's a small but dedicated group of artisans who continue to transform these raw Fordite slags into beautiful pieces of jewelry and sculptural objects. One prominent example is Urban Relic Design, which has high-quality (though expensive) pieces for sale on their website. Others are branching out beyond classic automotive Fordite into other baked paint slags like from old playgrounds.

And if you've got a band saw, sandpaper, and a jewelry polisher, you could buy some Fordite yourself and take a crack at the unique process.

The Motor City Lives on Through Fordite

Just like classic cars, Motor City agate ages like fine wine. In skilled hands, these clunky blocks of paint and primer layers are transformed into beautiful wearable art. And given that we've got all the Fordite we're ever going to have, if you've got an heirloom piece in your collection, keep it close. It just might be worth thousands someday.

Discover Fordite, the Auto Industry's Secret Gem