What’s this Fordite Stuff?


When I began making jewelry in the early aughts, I was pretty conflicted about using certain types of gemstones in my work. I’d already begun studying information about gemstones and their fascinating geologies and chemistries, and I’d enrolled in the GIA’s Diamond Grading and Colored Stones programs.

Then I went down the rabbit hole of trying to do a little bit of research about the gem industry and its mining and marketing practices. I was less than happy with the scant information I was fortunate enough to find. One very controversial book I read shook me to my core—to the point that I was pretty confident there could be no place in my work for these stones (this was way before myriad synthetics and lab-grown options became widely available).


In a long, painstaking search for alternatives, I stumbled across Fordite—which is literally automobile paint waste. According to the first vendor from whom I purchased my material years ago, I learned that the “waste” is layers of hardened enamel that accumulated on fixtures of the bays in which vehicle bodies were spray painted, by hand, during the mid-20th century.

Fordite had a far less troubling history than diamonds and was considered “eco-friendly.” [Of course, I have thoughts about our collective, mainstream declarations of what is truly “eco-friendly” and “sustainable,” but I’ll save them for a blog post later. #KeepingItReal. In the meantime, I can agree that keeping stuff like Fordite out of landfills is a laudable act.]


I was fascinated by Fordite’s origin story and associated mythology, so I bought a few sample pieces to examine in person. Color-lover that I am, I got really giddy about incorporating its incredible patterns and vivid swirls into my work. I then bought more. Much more. By the time I’d done all of my buying, sampling, and making, I had a nice-sized collection of work to make available for sale, and I launched Tamra Gentry Design Studio in 2009.

I soon discovered that the niche-y, nostalgic, joy-factor thing was REAL. In the three years I worked with Fordite, many people purchased work from me for or in honor of a family member who worked at one of the automobile plants. It was amazing to witness this material’s emotional effect on people.



As I mentioned above, Fordite is the accumulated spray paint waste by-product from an old, less efficient method of painting cars.  However, rather than regurgitate the origin story without giving credit where credit is due, I defer to Cindy Dempsey, the woman responsible for coining the term “motor agate.” Cindy was also one of my favorite lapidarists to purchase from. On her website, she explains what the material is and even breaks down what you see when you look at some of the layers—it’s pretty fascinating. Side note: I don’t remember where, but I saw a photo of autoworkers, in hazmat suits, spraying vehicles on the racks—they really did paint them by hand, and the clouds of overspray were no joke.



When I took a break from making jewelry in the early twenty-teens, I did so right before Fordite became popular. I didn’t realize how many items I’d already made and sold at the time. One day, in an unrelated file purge before destroying an old hard drive, I stumbled across a folder that contained a number of my old Fordite photos from my first website. I had so many images that I thought it would be fun to compile them and create a brand new archive-type website that featured nothing but these pieces.  —Because why keep them buried in a digital vault where no one can see them?

Although I no longer work with Fordite, I still have a few incredible pieces left over in my stash. I will use these in my own designs or make them available for custom work. If you’re interested, get in touch, and we can discuss a custom order.

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