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Patina – What is it, How is it Made, and Where Does it Develop?

We all know leather to be a beautiful, natural material that has a variety of uses. Whether it’s your leather boots, leather watch strap, leather bag, or leather jacket, it’s clear that leather—and especially raw leather—ages in a particular way. For those who don’t own something made with raw leather, they might be wondering: What’s the big deal? The big deal can be summarized in one word: Patina.

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DaLuca natural watch straps; raw on left, aged on right (Image via DaLuca Straps)

What is Patina?

Much like your favorite pair of raw denim, leather ages in a similar way, developing a “patina” as oils from your skin and other elements of the environment absorbs into it. Patina isn’t a negative; instead, it’s the main reason people fall in love with natural leather in its raw state. Starting with a beautiful pale tan shade, it eventually develops into any range of browns through wear and use.

Much like a pair of raw denim, you might not notice day-to-day changes. Instead, it’s much more dramatic when “before” and “after” images are paired up against each other.

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The Statue of Liberty (Image via Baaghi TV)

What Develops a Patina?

Leather isn’t the only thing that develops a patina. Wood, waxed canvas, metal, and even stone can also develop the signature sheen through use and exposure. The first two might be more apparent—on a wooden chair the arms develop a patina from the skin oils on a person’s hand, and waxed canvas on a jacket or hat gets a similar look from exposure to the sun and precipitation.

Metal and stone are less thought of when it comes to acquiring a patina, but perhaps the most obvious example is to look to New York City. The Statue of Liberty is made of copper, and in its original form had a deep golden appearance of the metal. However, after continued exposure to the elements and overall oxidation, copper develops its signature green surface from chemical compounds in the atmosphere–just like rivets on a pair of jeans.

Stone is another example that might not be especially obvious unless an older facade is set up against a new one made of stone. The older stone tends to have a darker, weathered appearance thanks to continued exposure to the weather and the sun.

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Gustin Natural High Tops; unworn on left, worn for 1 week on right (Image via Gustin)

How Do I Get Patina On My _______?

First of all, let’s assume we’re focusing on leather. In order for your leather watch strap, wallet, or belt to show patina, you’ll get the most dramatic changes if it’s unfinished. A leather bag with a finish on it will likely show much less to no patina over the years. A matte, aniline or completely raw piece of leather will show patina the most (in increasing order).

In order to actually get a nice patina on your item, you have to do one simple thing—use it. Much like the ongoing debate on whether people should actively be trying to get quicker fades on their denim or just simply wear them, those looking for a patina on their leather can start with the latter. Over time through natural wear, splashes of water, oils from your skin, and even the sun will cause a patina to develop.

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Naked and Famous Natural Leather Belts; unworn on top, aged on bottom (Image via Blue Owl Workshop)

If you’re one of those people who want a shortcut, there are plenty of things you can do (like for fading raw denim) to hasten the process. One is to maybe not be so careful when washing your hands while wearing a natural leather watch strap. Another is to leave the item out in the sun or wear it when it’s raining/snowing outside. The sunlight will naturally tan the leather, and the moisture from any precipitation will age it in a similar way.

Whether you want to speed up the process is up to you, but it’s clear that we can all agree that much like raw denim, both the ongoing changes and eventual end result are worth the journey.


 

Lead image via Corter Leather