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Patina is a term that is often used in the field of leather work, but do you know what it is, and why brands and consumers attach so much importance to this term?
Have you ever seen, in a corner of your attic, or in the middle of a street, a beautiful old leather bag dating from several decades? Have you noticed that its color, tint and reflections were quite different from the several new leather objects that fill the store windows? How could you not fall in love with such an object?
This difference is due to this famous patina, which comes from the aging process of leather, a natural and organic material and therefore subject to change over time.
Leather ages in a very particular way. And you will not find two leathers that age in the same way, as the number of factors influencing its evolution are numerous.
Like a fine wine (French, please), leather ages well, provided it is properly cared for. If you leave it without proper care, it will wither. A leather product is therefore a monetary investment but also a time investment because it requires care and love. But it will give you back, we guarantee it!
But what is the exact process that allows leather to have such beautiful colors over time? Can the patina be found on all types of leather? Can we accelerate or stop this phenomenon? What are its advantages and disadvantages?
Don't worry folk, we'll explain absolutely everything you need to know
What is Leather Patina? A Timeless Heritage & a Distinctive Sign of Quality
The patina is above all a proof of quality of the material. It only develops on products using natural materials. Therefore, it is an undeniable proof of a high-quality product.
A leather bag with a patina offers unique shine, character and personality, reflecting on its surface the adventures you have shared over the years. Some people don't like this change and would prefer to freeze the object in time. But many of us have fallen in love with leather, especially because of the patina.
The patina is intimately linked to the chemical aging process of leather, which mainly impacts its surface. It is highly regarded because it is unique to each product, affirming an original character of the bag but also its life. The patina is above all a story, your story, time being the central element of the process. It allows to fix in the leather the history of your life and therefore represents a timeless heritage that many people are looking for.
The patina is a natural process and it impacts different materials as we will see, but it is obviously in the field of leather that it stands out and is the most sought after by lovers of vintage and quality products.
Time and weather influence the aging process of leather, but so does use and wear. Whether it's a scratch from a wild ride with your friends or the repeated contact of your hands on the straps, patina is a phenomenon that develops day after day, naturally but also influenced by your life, as you use it. This is what makes it unique: each product develops a distinctive patina.
In a society where the immediate has taken over, this process cannot be artificialized. It takes time. To take its time. A strange concept, but one that makes sense to many of us.
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Leather has a Patina. What else Develops Patina over Time?
You are quite right. This is the first question we should ask ourselves. What everyday objects develop a patina like natural leather?
The patina develops on many organic objects, derived from natural materials. This process is naturally happening, since thousands of years, and is caused by the exposure of the material to the conditions of life on earth (philosophical no?).
The process is sometimes very long, that's why we don't notice right away that an object has a patina. But if you take two pictures at two different times, you can clearly see a transformation of the material.
Wood is a perfect example. And I'm sure that just by thinking about it, you can see in your mind the difference between a siding on a new house and a siding that has been around for a while. Exposure to wind, heat, sunlight, and moisture causes chemical reactions in the heart of the wood that transform it over time.
Another striking example concerns iron and certain alloys. Just look at the colors of the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty when they were built and today. Copper tends to develop a green patina when exposed to the air, by oxidation of the copper.
By Alvesgaspar - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
On a smaller scale, stone also changes color and hue over time. Often this is also due to air pollution and deposits of fine particles, darkening the material. However, the natural process also takes place and can be observed particularly on old buildings or monuments.
Be careful though, when talking about patina and leather, it is important to note that only good quality leather will have patina. Do not expect PU leather, bonded leather or split leather to develop a unique patina over time. This is the privilege of full grain leather, and at the limit of too much quality leather grain.
Why do People desired Leather Patina so much?
We work daily with full grain leather (and only full grain leather), which we transform into crazy horse leather by soaking it in oil to reveal its colors and improve its durability. If we had to choose 3 reasons why patina is so sought after by leather lovers, it would be these:
- It offers a unique and distinctive character to each object
- It constantly evolves with age, modifying your object throughout your life
- It is a guarantee of a quality material
Patina offers a unique and distinctive character to each object
We love receiving photos of our adventurers on their journeys. What we quickly noticed is how each bag, originally identical when it left the workshop, is now unique.
Some proudly display the marks (and after-effects) of a dynamic and hectic life, while others shows a quieter evolution, a testimony of a careful use and of a constant care. In the end, it expresses the personality of its wearer.
We ourselves, in the EIKEN offices, do not have the same lives, and our bags show it well. Mine is covered with marks and scratches, a sign of the hard life I make it lead, while my colleague's is like new, displaying beautiful brown tones that make him very proud of it.
You will have understood that each bag has a very particular history that the patina subtly reveals. These stories are captured, one after the other, like lines on a book and are therefore unique to each owner.
It speaks of your travels, your joys and your sorrows. It speaks of the moment when your bag waited for you in the rain, the moment when you enjoyed the sun on a beach on a beautiful summer day, or the too many times when, impatient to get back to your family, you threw your bag at the foot of the stairs a little too energetically.
It is in these moments that the beauty of the patina lies. The bag has become a friend, a part of you, it traces your common history
Patina constantly evolves with age, modifying your object throughout your life
From you to us, how many of the objects you own (or that are manufactured) today improve and become more valuable with age? Very few and when they do, they are very high quality items.
Like you and us, leather is an organic material, made of cells, which evolve over time as it is worn and exposed to the elements.
If you are a sunbather, the sun's UV rays will change the structure of the leather itself, altering its color and / or its reflections. Moreover, the upper part of the leather being very reactive, you will find the traces of your expeditions frozen in your leather item. Don't worry, these traces can be reduced or even erased with specialized care if you want to.
Patina is a natural phenomenon, which cannot (not really) be reproduced artificially. It takes time, sometimes dozens of years for some leather to develop a beautiful patina. This is what gives it its much sought after value: we cannot control the speed of the process. You can speed it up or slow it down, but in the end, time is the master of the game.
The more patient you are, the more your leather bag will reveal all its secrets. Isn't it worth it?
Patina is a guarantee of a quality material
We repeat ourselves a little in this part but it is important because it is an essential point to recognize a quality leather.
Today, you can find on the market, literally dozens of different leather, natural or artificial. The nuances can be tenuous and many brands take advantage of this blur to scam their customers.
You can be sure that a bonded leather or split leather will not develop the same patina as a full grain leather or crazy horse leather. This phenomenon only occurs on high quality leathers, which have been processed with the best care, leaving the material with its full potential.
Of course, other leathers will also develop a patina over time, but do not expect the same result. It will be less pronounced and therefore, less appreciable and appreciated.
A patinated leather is a sign of quality. These are often objects that stay in families and are passed on from generation to generation, totem of past stories and guarantor of family unity. It is a kind of heritage quality.
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What are the Characteristics of a Good Patina?
We have just seen what a patina is and the materials that benefit from this phenomenon. But how do we recognize a good patina?
A good patina is a patina that offers a subtle but very present shine, rich in different reflections on the surface of the leather, which can almost be assimilated to a marbling. This comes from the use you have of your bag, from scratches, scuffs, friction etc.
It is also due to the different fluids that are found on your bag at a given time such as body oils, rain, various stains. All of this modifies the leather, which is also constantly under the action of Mother Nature, from its UV rays, but also from the temperature, the humidity level etc.
Finding a leather that patinates well with time implies a monetary investment, because full grain leather is expensive, but also time because you have to find a good tannery, offering full grain leather with vegetable tanning. The time to let your bag age and reveal all its secrets.
What Leathers Show The Best Patina?
Full grain leather (and crazy horse leather - which is full grain leather immersed in oil) develops the best patinas. This happens especially when the leather is vegetable tanned (as opposed to mineral tanned), which is known in the world to develop the best patina, the tanning being more natural and leaving the leather with all its natural characteristics.
Full grain leather is the highest quality leather on the market, offering unparalleled durability and strength, providing a fertile base for the natural aging process of your object. This leather is of high quality because it is almost raw, not having been scraped, polished or sanded and offering a particularly tight grain.
For the anecdote, the full grain leather was formerly nicknamed the "cuir parfait - perfect leather", symbol of its quality. Today, this term is almost no longer used, even if some sectors, such as footwear for example, continue to use it sometimes.
In most cases, its quality is such that it does not require dyeing like lesser quality leathers. This allows the natural traces and marks of the cow to be preserved and thus provides a more favorable basis for natural evolution.This leather is often compared to sponges because it tends to absorb all the elements that surround it: UV rays, body oils, humidity, temperatures, marks and friction.
The quality of this leather and its potential for evolution means that it is often vegetable tanned to let it express itself perfectly. However a mineral tanning will not endanger the patina process, don't worry. It is often chosen because of its more affordable cost, allowing us to offer customers high quality leather backpacks at reasonable prices (hello that's us).
Leather, when tanned by plants (with bark, roots or leaves of trees like sumac or chestnut) is more porous but also more environmentally friendly than mineral tanning. Mineral tanning uses chromium sulfate and is not a natural process. It offers benefits to the leather of course but it does not allow for as optimal aging as vegetable tanning.
Can Faux Leather Get a Patina?
Even if the different faux leathers are surprisingly close to the rendering of natural leather, offering credible alternatives at unbeatable prices, they are far from offering similar quality and characteristics.
The manufacturing process has absolutely nothing to do with it, because faux leathers are made of non-organic material, assembled through various chemical processes (with polyurethane and polyester most often), offering a result whose initial appearance is close to leather, but on a dead material and frozen in time.
Moreover, these materials do not offer the same durability as real leather (regardless of the tanning method). They have the unfortunate tendency to degrade quickly and age very poorly, feeding the society of mass overconsumption. Leather can fade, but this process has nothing to do with the patina of a natural leather. You will quickly realize this.
They are therefore less attractive than real leather objects but are much (much) cheaper, allowing everyone to acquire a stylish object, which will however remain an empty shell.
If you are looking for a leather bag that will develop a patina over time, your only viable option is a genuine leather bag, made from 100% natural leather. Anything else will at best give a mediocre patina and at worst a bag that will end up in the garbage after a few years.
How does Leather Patina Develop?
It may seem counterintuitive at times, but the best way to develop the patina of your item is to use it, day after day. Handling your leather bag and taking it everywhere with you is definitely the best way to leave your mark and to make it express its full potential.
As we have seen above, a beautiful patina is a marbled patina. Therefore, the various marks, scratches and scuffs are an essential part of the aging process of leather. We receive a large number of messages asking us for solutions to erase these marks. For us it is a mistake to do so. They will fade with time, but will participate in the creation of a unique and original patina offering to your leather object an asserted character that is yours.
To summarize, here are the main elements that contribute the most to the development of the leather patina:
- sun's rays
- atmospheric conditions, especially the humidity level
- various liquids, whether body oils or stains from other liquids (soda, beer, wine, etc.)
- dyes of your clothes, especially the indigo dye of jeans, the low quality one which tends to cause color transfer much more easily than the old Levis 501.
- dust and various airborne particles, including pollution.
As we said before, leather is a sponge that absorbs everything it encounters in its environment. You will notice this especially on the areas where there is frequent contact (near the pockets or on the straps).
With use and exposure, the patina and shine will develop, light-colored leathers will darken, marks will fade, discreetly disappearing and wrinkles and folds will become more pronounced.
Your bag will age like you, suffering the same assaults as you do. The advantage is that even though it takes time and patience, the less you worry about your bag being in perfect condition, the more it will wear and reveal a beautiful patina. That doesn't mean you shouldn't take care of it. It is essential to take care of an organic material, to give it the resources it needs to grow.
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How To Speed Up The Patina Process?
You have just acquired a leather object and you don't want to wait to get that beautiful patina so desired? Well, to tell you the truth and at the risk of disappointing you, you will have to be patient.
However, even if the aging process of leather is a rather long and natural process, you can put all the chances on your side to try to accelerate the process.
And that's where our simplest tip comes in: use your product as much as possible, in all conditions, to expose it to different factors. Indeed, each factor impacts the leather differently. So the more you diversify the situations, the richer and more unique the patina of your object will be. Don't worry about it being new. It needs to live and evolve so don't be afraid to use it.
The math is pretty simple: the more you use it, the quicker it will weather. Let it tan and it will change color, just like your skin. Take it to the sea and let it soak up the iodine spray that falls on the leather. Touch it and let the oils on your hands nourish the leather. It's up to you to see which type of patina suits you best.
Test and watch the evolution of your object. You can then adapt its exposure to the elements to keep the shade and the reflections that you like the most. The sun and the heat offer golden tones, the sea water offers splash marks and the oil from your hands darker colors. It's up to you to make your own recipe.
You can apply certain oils to the leather, like mink oil or certain vegetable oils. The leather will absorb the oil and take on a darker hue. But be careful not to apply too much. As they say "less is more".
You can also "fake" the aging process with some tricks, as explained in the video below:
How to Slow Down Leather Patina?
We humans are sometimes complicated... Some of us want to have a leather bag with a patina in a few days, others would like to keep it in its new state all their life, that's what makes the beauty of our species after all (a little positivity never killed).
So, if you are part of this second team, you should know that this process is unstoppable, just like death (that's it, the positivity is gone). More seriously, leather will always evolve and age.
But we are a smart species and have found some techniques to slow down this aging process: botox and facelifts. Did you believe it?
To slow down the patina, we just need to take the factors that accelerate its evolution and do the opposite. Let's start again:
- sun's rays: avoid the sun's rays as much as possible
- atmospheric conditions, especially the humidity level : avoid leaving your bag in humid places or in places where the leather cannot breathe (in a suitcase for example
- daily use, notably the marks, frictions, scratches, polishing: avoid as much as possible the contact of your object with your clothes, your pockets, the objects which surround you
- various liquids, whether body oils or stains from other liquids (soda, beer, wine, etc.): wash your hands regularly before touching your object and do not eat/drink like a pig.
- dyes of your clothes, especially the indigo dye of jeans, the low quality one which tends to cause color transfer much more easily than the old Levis 501: avoid wearing medium quality clothes whose dye could easily rub off on leather
- dust and various airborne particles, including pollution: clean your bag regularly with water and a soft cloth to remove all these particles.
In addition to this revolutionary reverse method (we feel we're coming to the end of the article here, don't we?), you can apply a care triptych that will allow the bag to keep its original appearance as long as possible:
- Cleaning Step: give it, every week, a moment to maintain your object (or after each use if you are really decided). Specialized leather cleaners will remove the impurities and grease absorbed during the use of your object. Ordinary soap should be avoided because it dries out the leather (except for Marseille soap), which will tend to cause creases and cracks. Opt for a neutral pH soap, as natural as possible.
- Conditioning Step: leather is an organic material (we've said it enough at this point), and like our own skin, to keep its beauty, it needs to be moisturized. To do this, use conditioners, which moisten and nourish the leather, allowing it to retain its original softness and suppleness.
- Sealing Step: this part allows to freeze in marble (in this case in leather) your material, by applying a protective layer, which prevents the various liquids and moisture to infiltrate. This type of product is often used on leather shoes for example. We recommend it if your lifestyle constantly exposes your product to different environments.
In general, once a month maintenance is enough to slow down the aging process of your product and keep it in a state close to its original condition. In our opinion, it's a shame to prevent this natural process, which gives your product a unique charm. But you are the captain of your ship and you now have the keys to make it happen.
Will Patina affect the Durability or Quality of Leather?
I think at this point in the article, if you were brave enough and are one of the survivors who read to the end (and I thank you for that), you can answer this question.
The patina of the leather does not affect its essential characteristics such as its durability, flexibility or strength. It only changes the aesthetics and appearance of the top layer of the leather, giving it a sensational beauty.
Don't worry about this point, leather is made to evolve, it's the nature of natural materials. So if you are tempted, go for it.
The patina of leather has no impact on its longevity or strength. On the contrary, as mentioned above, it only increases the beauty, value and feel of the product.
Wrapping Up: Your leather - an Investment Piece
You now have the knowledge and all the keys to choose your camp. Do you want a unique, assertive leather that traces your life? Or do you want to preserve the new, virgin and pure aspect of the original object? In any case, we advise you to choose a quality leather (at best full grain leather, crazy horse leather and at the limit top grain leather), if possible with vegetable tanning to reveal all its splendor.
Another piece of advice, don't be afraid of glass, life is short and there are many things to discover. Don't forget to take your product with you, so that it will carry forever, and retrace the adventures and stories you will have shared.
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