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What Is Leather Patina

What Is Leather Patina

Love at first sight. There is no mistaking it. You see a leather bag and you fell in love instantly. Leather is strong and likewise durable. But most importantly, it is beautiful. Like a fine wine, leather ages beautifully. But what makes leather so beautiful? The answer is simple: leather patina.

Dagny Weekender
The Dagny Weekender

The Definition of Patina Leather

By definition, the leather patina is the term that describes the aging of leather. It is a slow change that develops on the surface of the leather. This change is the result of the fabric's continued use and exposure to the outside elements. It is especially visible in the aging of high-quality leather. Thus, some consider such change as a hallmark for high-grade leather such as top-grain and full-grain leather .

Likewise, leather patina also makes leather highly desirable not only due to its quality but the aesthetic it brings as well. Most people going for a cool and vintage look often use leather to highlight their style.

Leather naturally ages to give off a subtle, natural patina. The addition of dirt, body oils, sunlight, and wear and tear are absorbed into the leather. Over time, this makes the leather its own old-fashioned charm.

How Does Leather Patina Develop?

Developing a great leather patina takes time and patience. It is not something you see changing every day. It is only through time, use, and exposure will the leather change into a more beautiful fabric. The maintenance and conditioning of leather are equally important factors in this process. Therefore, in achieving that great leather patina proper care is necessary.

The patina that develops as a result of use is the most important part of owning leather goods. Every single thing you do to your wallet or backpack it will add to the character that defines it over time. Casual wear and tear will leave marks on leather that only serve to make it more beautiful. Use your leather items, pick up after yourself, and look after your leather. The result will be a different experience every time you touch it.

Leather is a natural organic material that takes on the unique character from the environment it is in. Even the friction from your credit cards and fingers add to its unique character. When leather begins to wear, its natural patina reveals itself.

Over time, those little flaws will dull away and look even more beautiful. Lighter colored leathers become warmer and darker. Deep scratches flatten out, while deeper dents fade evenly. Clean wrinkles form where the leather folds along the creases where it was folded.

Embracing the way you live your life with your leather goods is key. The more patina forms from every bump along the way, the more worn and beautiful the result will be.

What Develops a Patina?

Many things in life develop a patina. Allowing the product to get used and exposed can have a transformative effect on how it looks. Initially, we might not recognize how something has developed the patina that they have, but over time it becomes apparent. Just like with leather, wood develops a patina from chemical reactions that occur as it's exposed to the heat of the sun and moisture of rain. Similarly, metal turns its surface matte after exposure to oxidation.

Ages ago, stone was not considered to be a material that got its patina from interaction with the outside world. Now, rust is as common as city traffic, so it isn't that much of a mystery. What about the Statue of Liberty? Years ago, she was made entirely from copper-alloyed iron and topped with a copper skirt. As such, she was highly reflective and needed a rich oxide patina over time to change her appearance. Whatever is the truth, copper develops an alluring green patina after exposure to the open air. However, this beautiful surface can succumb to the elements just like the buttons on a pair of jeans.

Stone is another example that might not be particularly obvious unless a newer facade is set up against an older stone. The newer stone tends to have a lighter, less weathered appearance due to the lack of exposure to the weather and the sun.

However, while there are several things that can develop a patina, it is important to note that only real, high quality leather can develop a beautiful patina over time. Things like PU Leather or Bonded Leather do not develop patinas.

Leather Patina on the Welch Vintage Briefcase
Leather Patina on the Welch Briefcase

Why You Should Embrace a Leather Patina

There are several benefits to embracing a leather patina. One benefit is an increased softness in leather. As leather ages and develops a nice patina, it is slowly broken in and will become softer. Another reason is the look. Many people tend to prefer the aged vintage antique leather look that patina leather tends to offer.

Benefit of Patina

Besides turning heads wherever you take your leather bag, a good patina is an age-old way of knowing that your bag was made with high quality leather. That natural patina will also form a protective covering that will protect your bag from excessive weathering or corrosion. Simply put, it looks good and makes your bag last longer.

What are the Characteristics of a Good Patina?

A good patina will have a slight sheen to it, and be rich, almost marbled in character. It is the accumulation of scratches, oils from your hands or other sources, sunlight, wear, etc. But not heavily treated "genuine leather" or other lesser grades of leather.

Full grain leather that has been naturally treated with vegetable tanning (like ours) is the best leather for developing rich patinas over time. It's a sure-fire way of getting that quality vintage antique leather look.

Does a Patina Mean that the Leather is Worn Out?

Not at all! Like wine, leather gets better with age. Developing a nice patina on your leather is the goal of many of our bag owners and just means both you and your bag have gone through a lot together. Your bag will not be any weaker once it has developed its natural patina.

It is important however that you make sure that the bag you are purchasing is made of full grain leather or at least top grain leather in order for it to last a long time.

Vintage Leather Briefcase with a nice patina
Vintage Leather Briefcase

What Leather Shows The Best Patina?

Patinas only develop on very high-quality leathers that have been naturally processed/tanned.

Natural vegetable tanned leather does not have any dyes or pigments added to the leather. This means that the color of the leather will naturally change over time. Its natural behavior over time will make it stand out more from other types of leather. Natural vegetable tanned leather will absorb any liquid that comes into contact with it. It absorbs body oils and stains and can age more quickly than other types of leather, which makes it a great choice for hand made products such as backpacks, wallets, and duffel bags.

Different types of Leather Age Differently

Leather ages differently depending on how it was made and what type of leather it is. The most valuable leather is full grain, which refers to leather that has not been sanded, buffed, or snuffed (that is, had the grain removed) from the rawhide. Full-grain leather is characterized by a tight grain pattern, which means it does not scratch easily. Moreover, because it is made from the top layer of the hide, it is the most durable. (Interestingly, full-grain leather was once known as the "perfect leather" and the term is still used in the leather shoe industry, despite the fact that it's no longer the most common type of leather used.)

Full Grain Leather - The Highest Grade of Leather

You've probably heard the term full grain leather before, but do you know exactly what it means? Full grain leather is the highest grade of leather. It is the leather that is left on the hide after the top surface has been sanded and all the other layers of the hide have been removed. Full grain leather offers the highest quality and is the most durable. It is very popular in leather products such as wallets, belts, backpacks, and weekenders. You can identify full grain leather by its distinct, natural look. It is not bleached, colored, or treated in any way to hide imperfections.

Full grain leathers are the highest-quality leather materials. They will produce amazing patina over time, and they're the most durable leathers out there.

A rich patina is the hallmark of a high quality, full grain leather product. The real heart of any luxury item is the soul of its leather. If you want your products to age well and look beautiful throughout the years, then you should choose a premium material like full grain leather. This means investing time and money in finding skilled leather tannery and master craftsmen.

Vegetable tanned leather

Vegetable-tanned leather is tanned using tannins from plant sources, such as tree bark, or from vegetable matter, like the roots and leaves of the sumac or chestnut tree.  This refers to the process in which the Full Grain Leather was treated. The vegetable-tanned leather is much more porous and absorbs dye differently than the other forms of leather. The ancient process of vegetable tanning hides requires a lot of time and skill, but this type of leather provides a number of benefits. This natural way of treating leather provides us with a much better and environmentally friendly leather product than chrome tanning.

Chrome tanned leather is a form of leather created using chromium sulfate and other salts in combination with animal flesh. Chrome tanned leather is not a natural process. Originally, chrome tanning is a solution that uses chromium sulfate and other salts in combination with animal skins in order to make a very durable leather that is resistant to water, weather, and rot. While chrome tanning has some benefits, it does not allow the leather to develop a rich patina the way that vegetable tanning does. Check this article out to learn more about vegetable tanning vs chrome tanning.

Can Faux Leather develop a patina?

Faux leather bags can be amazingly realistic, contrasting nicely with other materials, and are often sold at extremely low prices. Unfortunately, it is important to be aware that their construction is not the same as real leather. The faux material is made of synthetic polyester rather than animal hide.

Faux leather products tend to deteriorate easily and look cheap over time, while fake leather bags do not age well and are generally less attractive than their natural leather counterparts.

If you want a really authentic looking patina, choose a leather bag made of 100% real leather. Faux leathers simply won't develop the same beautiful hints of marbling colors as real leather products. Fade might happen, but it won't develop a real patina. Real natural leather is the best choice for developing a patina.

How to Patina Leather

Patina is a word that may make your skin crawl, but what is a patina? It's the natural colour of the leather over time. It is truly an art form, the art of aging leather. Like a fine wine, the leather becomes more beautiful with age. The coloring and sheen come from the natural oils and fluids coming from your hands and body. The first step to a beautiful patina is to simply use your leather. Wear it, use it, and enjoy. To speed up the process, you can apply oils and conditioners to the leather. There are many products out there but one of the most common is mink oil. It is a liquid that you apply to the leather.

Pathfinder Wallet
The Pathfinder Wallet

How to develop your own patina?

Leather is a natural material. It can be found in many different parts of the world and is used for a variety of purposes. Leather items can include briefcases, wallets, shoes, belts, lighters, backpacks, and even watch straps. If you use your leather goods enough, they will become distressed over time and eventually develop their own character.

Your leather goods were designed to look good ages after. If you want to age them, just use them. Everything you do with your leather bag or backpack will slowly add to it growing a patina

Speeding Up The Leather Patina Process

Not all leather will patina at the same time. even leather from the same animal skin will not have a uniform change. Aside from proper maintenance and conditioning, there are certain factors that may affect the patina process. For example, a leather wallet might develop patina faster than a leather bag or leather jacket. You might be thinking "yes, that is possible because wallets are exposed to constant pressure and friction as it is always kept in the back pocket." This logic is not wrong, however, it is only a fraction of what affects the process. Other factors that will affect the patina include water, natural body oils, moisture, dust, dirt, heat, and sunlight.

The More Exposure The Better

The best and fastest way to develop a beautiful patina on your leather goods is to use them often. This means throwing your wallet in your bag, catching it on the corner of a table, or dragging it along the ground. Some water, such as rain or sprinklers, will not harm the patina - it's the natural oils from your hands that create the beautiful brown coloration that makes up a patina.

There are different levels of exposure and there are different effects on the leather as well. The exposure to different factors will affect the patina outcome. Therefore, "the more exposure, the better" is not always right. It will more or less depend on what kind of patina you are trying to achieve.

For example, frequently exposing your leather to sunlight and heat will likely bring out a golden tone to the fabric. Meanwhile, frequent exposure to rain or seawater will leave splash marks on the leather's surface. Moreover, natural oils such as those secreted by our body will likely cause dark patches to form on the leather.

Frequent exposure to these factors will likely speed up the patina process. However, the best way to speed up the process is just to use your leather frequently. Let time be the only factor influencing the change. The secret to beautiful leather patina is patience. Use it as you normally would and let it age beautifully with all its scrapes and scratches. In fact, according to leather artisans and enthusiasts, each scratch, scruff, wear, and tear makes your leather even more special. This adds to the already unique characteristic of leather made from animal skin. As they say, every leather is unique as no two animal skin is exactly the same.

Leather Backpack in Brooklyn
Asmund Leather Backpack

Slowing Down The Leather Patina Process

For those who want to keep that "new leather" look, you may want to slow down the patina process. Regularly cleaning and condition your leather will help preserve its original look. Especially for leather that is continuously exposed to heat and sunlight. This is necessary because these factors will not only speed up the process but it will also dry out the leather. Therefore, you may want to clean and condition it regularly, like once a month for example.

This does not mean however that if you want to speed up the process that you can neglect cleaning and conditioning the leather. These tasks are as important in speeding up the process as to slow it down as well. You may not want to clean as regularly as you want if you want to speed it up. However, it is advisable that you clean it at least twice a year or every 6 months. This helps to at least strengthen the fabrics of the leather and nourish it as well. This will prevent the leather from drying out.

Does a Patina Mean that the Leather is Worn Out?

This is a common misconception when it comes to leather. Logically speaking, frequent use and time will wear out any fabric. Leather, however, is different. As you frequently use leather and as your leather survives another year it will develop this beautiful patina. This patina, although it looks worn out and vintage, does not mean that the fabric has gone weak and worn out. In fact, the process does not affect the leather's durability or longevity at all. However, this is only true if you take good care of your leather. We cannot stress how important cleaning and conditioning does to leather.

Vintage Leather Backpack
The Asmund Backpack

Will Patina affect the Quality of Durability of Leather?

A leather patina does not negatively impact the durability of a leather product. In fact, it will actually increase the overall lifespan of a product. It looks great, improves quality, and adds a unique touch to your product's overall visual appeal and feel.

A full-grain leather bag is meant to be used. Over time, this natural protection will stretch and patina with use and exposure to the elements. For desirable, extended use, it's essential to choose a bag that's made from natural materials to retain their texture and colour.

How To Look After Your Leather

Leather is a material that should be treated with care, but if done correctly, it will become an old friend rather than a one-time object. Wearing leather is not only great for the environment, but it also sets you apart from other consumers and creates a sense of presence. This means - without worrying about wearing out your piece - you can feel confident in its protection and integrity, while still feeling good about how you live your life.

Protecting Leather

Protecting your leather is important because, without it, your leather will crack and deteriorate over time. This process is accelerated by temperature and humidity, so it's important to take care of your leather.

Leather is a durable material that can be kept in prime condition using a few easy steps. The process for maintaining leather might be a little more involved than something that's machine washable, but if you're committed to a leather bag you'll find the time and effort to be worthwhile.

Keep it dry The biggest threat to leather is moisture. Water causes the material to wear down and warp, both of which will lead to cracks and damage over time. If something spills on your bag, remove the item and wipe away the moisture. If it's not practical to do so at the moment, be sure to clean the leather as soon as possible.

Cleaning Leather

The leather must be cleaned from time to time and it must be cleaned the right way. You must only use the proper leather cleaner whenever cleaning leather. Furthermore, cleaning leather must be by handwashing only. Moreover, to properly maintain leather you must invest in great quality leather conditioners. It will keep the leather clean and strong. It will likewise protect the leather from dirt, grime, and stains. Take a look at this more in depth article for a deep understanding of how to clean handmade leather bags.

Conditioning Leather

Cleaning the leather of your leather goods will leave it feeling soft and supple, but like our skin, it also needs moisturizer. If you want to maintain an exceptional appearance for your products, a leather conditioner is for you. Conditioners add moisture and keep the leather surface tender and soft.

Having a small but steady supply of leather conditioner can keep leather from drying out. And that's essential for helping it feel like new, or at least like a more-maintained version of its original self. Here is an in-depth article about the benefits of using a leather conditioner. Below are some conditioners we recommend

Vintage Leather Briefcase with a nice patina
Welch Briefcase in Brooklyn

Leather Care Products

It's advisable to condition your leather more often. Conditioning has the effect of keeping leather livable and looking well-maintained as well as waterproof while protecting it from abrasion and other environmental damage. It also maintains suppleness and flexibility so that leather lasts longer. Every six to eight weeks is generally a good rule of thumb for conditioning.

You can use any leather conditioner you can find however it is recommended that you use known brands. This includes Leather Honey leather conditioner, Chamberlain’s leather milk, Lexol Leather Conditioner, and Armstrong’s All Natural Universal Salve.

How to Store Your Leather Bag

Leather bags are a great accessory and are a must-have for all men and women looking to elevate their style. The right leather bag can instantly transform a drab outfit into something more impressive. To ensure you are enjoying your leather bag for years to come, it is important to take proper care of your bag and maintain it with routine cleaning and conditioning.

A key component to maintaining your leather bag is storing it in the right way. To store your leather bag, you have some options. The first rule in caring for your bag is to never store it in a plastic bag or a plastic box. The best way to store your leather bag is to put it back in the dust jacket it came in. Sometimes, this is not an option. If the bag is too big to be put back into the original bag, then you can use a cotton sheet or pillowcase. Put the bag inside and then put it into a closet. If there is room, you can place a pillow in the closet as well to help keep the bag in place.

Your leather - an investment piece for the future

Always remember that the hallmark for great, high-quality leather is its patina. Invest in high-quality leather such as top-grain or full-grain leather to have the best-looking patina. Although they are quite expensive, high-quality leather is strong, durable, long-lasting, and beautiful as it ages. They are guaranteed a great investment.

At Steel Horse Leather, we promise to use only premium full-grain leathers to ensure the highest longevity. What's better is that you will end up using these products for a longer time, as they are not only more durable but also keep looking better with each passing year. Not having to replace them frequently also means that you buy less when you buy better quality products.

Steel Horse Leather
Steel Horse Leather Custom Embossed Logo

Full Grain Leather Backpacks and Duffel Bags that will Develop Beautiful Patinas Over Time