It’s said that you learn something new every day, and in the jewelry industry, I can see how that would be true. I’m always learning about new creators, trends, techniques, or gemstones.
Or, in this case, not gemstones.
That’s exactly how one can describe fordite, an eye-pleasing painting of a stone—not a stone—that designers seem to really love working with.
That notion is maybe not so surprising once you see it. The material in question, which is also sometimes referred to as motor agate, isn’t found in nature—it’s found in a factory. Or, at least it was.
What could most certainly be mistaken for psychedelic layers of stone formed in the earth is actually enamel paint that comprises the cool look of fordite. It began as early as the 1920s, when car manufacturers would use a hand-spraying technique on their automobiles. The leftover drip would harden over time, creating the multilayered, multicolored look, which eventually had to be removed as the accumulation got in the way of producing new vehicles. Factory workers took these hardened materials home, and someone brilliantly realized the pretty leftovers could be cut into shapes. Someone even more brilliant decided those shapes could be used to create jewelry.
The process that resulted in fordite was rendered virtually nonexistent thanks to new technology for painting automobiles in the ’80s, during which the over drip of paint was more or less eliminated and so was the formation of fordite. That fordite is no longer (however haphazardly) produced makes it a candidate for greater demand (we always want what we can’t have), and here in the jewelry biz, we love our rarities. We also love our history.
“I am told that the age of the fordite can be determined by the colors of the paint—colors that were prevalent during certain eras,” says Marla Aaron, who has been incorporating the material into her collections for the last four years—including custom pieces created for British designer Roland Mouret’s runway show in 2019. “As I worked with our stonecutter to figure out how to ‘slice and dice’ it, it occurred to me that as we cut through different layers of the paint we were, in essence, exposing history. It’s hard not to visualize the men (and women perhaps, but doubtful) who painted those cars. That it was once just simply old dried-up paint on a floor and is now ‘precious’ is the stuff of my dreams.”
While the name fordite may imply that all of it originated from the Ford factory (its moniker does refer to the company), that isn’t the case. Take, for example, the creations pictured here from Chrissy Liu: All of the fordite featured is from the Corvette factory in Bowling Green, Ky.
If the impending scarcity of fordite isn’t enough to persuade consumers to jump on it, its mesmerizing imagery is. “There is a mythical quality to the automotive industry in this country—what happened in Detroit—the boom and the bust of it and now its resurrection at the hands of a new wave of innovators and artists taking it back in a new way,” says Aaron. “This is so ‘us’ by the way (and by us I mean American). We know how to rebuild. We know how to bounce back—it’s in our DNA.”
Words to live by in this day and age, especially.
Top: Brooch in 18k yellow gold with 33.52 cts. t.w. fordite and 0.56 ct. t.w. diamonds, $14,000; Pamela HuizengaFollow JCK on Instagram: @jckmagazine
Follow JCK on Twitter: @jckmagazine
Follow JCK on Facebook: @jckmagazine