What is Leather Patina?

Posted at 10:05 AM • September 23 2019 • Ryan Popoff


Patina is a word that gets thrown around our craft, but what, exactly is it? And why do people care about it so much?

Patina is what forms on natural materials such as wood, denim, canvas, metal and stone. It’s a signature of high-quality items not normally found on their cheaper counterparts (think of big box store jeans VS raw denim from Naked & Famous ).

Simply being worn, exposed to the elements or handled creates a signature sheen and antiquing effect.

Metals and stones are not really thought of when we talk about Patina, but we look at the Statue of Liberty as a perfect example of copper patina. From a deep, golden color to it’s famous green.

Today, we’ll be focusing on Leather Patina – because that’s what Popov Leather is all about. In case you’re new here, we make stuff out of leather.


Table of Contents


Patina is the value that age puts on an object

- John Yemma

The Definition of Patina

Leather patina is what makes full grain leather stand apart from its cheaper counterparts such as “genuine” or “top grain” leathers.

From the scratches and marks your keys make on your wallet to the darker spots on your journal cover where your hand always touches and rubs. Leather Patina is something developed through everyday use.

The accumulation of dirt, body oils, sunlight and wear and tear create a darkening and soft sheen to leather goods. Over time the leather will oxidize and age naturally to give these effects.

This is a process that cannot be replicated through any artificial means.

It just takes time.

Why do People want Leather Patina?

There are 3 main reasons why leather patina is so sought after:

  • It’s as unique as the person
  • It looks better with age
  • It’s a hallmark of high quality

Do you Prefer Character or Keeping your Leather Goods like NEW?
*Based on 222 Surveyed Popov Leather Customers


55.9%

Lots of Character
124 People Responded

42.8%

Some Character
95 People Responded

1.4%

Like New
3 People Responded

Unique as the Person

For every wallet we make, no two will ever be the same. Even more so, after it ends up in someone’s hands.

Every leather wallet, book cover, belt, and keychain will develop patina and be as unique as the person who carries it. The darker the patina, the richer the story.

In other words: every item has a story to tell.

The character and personality formed on your leather goods are like a stamp of ownership that’s unique to every owner. Each wallet will tell you about the trips its been on, the times its been dropped on the ground, and every wrinkle formed through opening and closing the billfold.

The true beauty of owning leather goods is that you’ll start to see yourself reflected more and more through use and time. As your belt conforms to your waist or your wallet softens up in your pocket, it becomes a part of you.

Patina is a way of mapping a journey and telling a story about its owner.

Looks Better with Age

How many things do you own that get better with age?

Leather is almost alive. It shows its age just like we do.

Leave your wallet out in the sun and it will tan. Scratch it and it will leave a scar. Patina is what happens when leather ages gracefully and is entirely unique to natural products.

Darkening with age and the personality that forms on every product is an effect that money cannot buy. This change comes only through age and through use. Like a 30-year-old scotch, these items will only get better with age.

A beautiful patina will take time to form.

Customer Patina Gallery
See pictures our customers have sent us

The Hallmark of High Quality

Leather Patina doesn’t form on all types of leather. Only the highest grades such as full-grain leather will develop rich character over time. Patina is a visible signature of quality.

The ability to age is a unique trademark of high-quality leather. These are the types of products that you hand down to your children.

Patina signifies heirloom quality.

Leather Card Holder

Card Holder Brand New

Leather card holder after a year of use

Card Holder with One Year of Daily Use

How does Leather Patina Develop?

The simplest way for patina to develop is through use. Handling your leather wallet is the easiest way to make your mark on it. It’s a long-term process that will show over time.

Scratches and scrapes also make up a huge part of the process. Over time these will fade, but make up the overall look, feel and texture of well-worn leather goods.

A number of factors contribute to how patina develops overtime:

  • Oils on your hands
  • Dust
  • Moisture in the air
  • Indigo dye from your jeans
  • Sunlight
  • Scratches, scrapes

My wallet has a scratch from falling to the stage off my keyboard during a jazz trio concert or a smudge from being rubbed against the metal seats at a ballgame. It has been in the sun on the coast of Mexico once, and spends time up against the purple pen in my pocket. Maybe it looks more like me as a result.

- Will L.

Leather is an organic material that soaks up everything in its environment. Even friction from your fingers or the way that you put your credit cards inside your wallet add to the unique character and patina.

Over time a soft sheen will eventually develop. Lighter colored leathers will darken up more dramatically, while darker leathers may be more subtle. Deep scratches or dents will smooth over and slowly fade away. Wrinkles where folds form become more pronounced.

Embrace the way you live your life with your leather goods; the richness in patina will form from every bump along the way. The less you worry about leather’s pristine condition, the more worn-in and beautiful the result will be.

What is your favorite feature of leather patina?
*Based on 220 Surveyed Popov Leather Customers


25.5%

Mirrors How
I Use it

56 People
Responded

21.4%

Darkening
Leather
47 People
Responded

21.4%

Softening
Leather
47 People
Responded

17.7%

Scratches &
Scuffs

39 People
Responded

7.7%

Surface
Sheen

17 People
Responded

6.4%

Other
Reason
14 People
Responded

Which Leather shows the Best Patina?

Natural vegetable tanned leather without any dyes or pigments shows the best patina over time. This leather is almost like a sponge – soaking up anything it touches. It’s particularly susceptible to sunlight and body oils.

Full grain leathers that have dyes and pigments added are second best when it comes to developing patina. These leathers are considered the highest grade of leather. Not only are they the most durable, but they will develop an amazing patina over time.

Popov Leather 5 Card Wallet (New)

5 Card Wallet Brand New

Popov Leather 5 Card Wallet (Well Used)

5 Card Wallet with 1.5 Years Use

Will Patina affect the Durability or Quality of Leather?

Leather patina has zero impact on the longevity or strength. If anything, like mentioned above, it only increases the beauty, value, and feel of the product.

Wear and tear is what full grain leather goods are built for.

Do not fear the patina – embrace it!

While I’ve made my point that patina is something to be desired, there are often 2 camps when it comes to leather goods owners. Those who want patina as quickly as possible and those who want to keep their leather goods in pristine condition.

Both my wallet and notebook cases from Popov leather have experienced several continents over the past 5-6 years. There is one particular scratch on my notebook cover that I can pick out every time. It happened about 4 years ago when my then girlfriend accidentally scratched it. Unrelated it was also the last day we were together. It's a bitter-sweet memory but it gets me every time.

- Richard S.

Tips on how to get Leather Patina Faster

The absolute best way to speed up the patina process is to simply use your leather goods without being delicate. Throw your wallet around, let it get dinged up and scratched. A little water from the rain won’t hurt it either. The more you use your item, the faster it patinas.

Leave your goods out in the sun during an afternoon, let them get a tan. Just like your skin, natural leather will begin to tan when exposed to the sun.

Friction causes patina quickly; leaving your wallet or key chain in your pocket all the time is a great way to speed up the process.

I live an active life, in the outdoors and traveling the world. My wallet earned it's scars falling through the rocks in the mountains outside of Valencia Spain...getting dropped and kicked in the streets of Buenos Aires...briefly getting lost on the swamps of the Everglades...but most of the scars come from my dog, when I have him retrieve the wallet from my bedside table because I don't want to go get it myself.

- Tony C.

Going for a walk along the ocean? Rain and sea water mist can form marks that also create darker patches.

And don’t worry about washing your hands so much – let natural oils from your fingers and palms soak into your leather goods. This tip is a little extreme, but you get the idea.

Speaking of oils: mink or vegetable oil can be rubbed into leather. Once it’s absorbed the leather will take on a darker appearance. Don’t use too much though.

In summary: don’t be so careful around leather goods and enjoy the journey.

How long did it take you to break in your leather goods?
*Based on 218 Surveyed Popov Leather Customers


38.1%

6 Months
83 People
Responded

29.4%

1 Month
64 People
Responded

11%

1 Year
24 People
Responded

11.5%

Other
25 People
Responded

10.1%

1 Week
22 People Responded

How long did it take you to break in your leather goods?
*Based on 218 Surveyed Popov Leather Customers


38.1%

6 Months
83 People
Responded

29.4%

1 Month
64 People
Responded

11.5%

Other
25 People
Responded

11%

1 Year
24 People
Responded

10.1%

1 Week
22 People Responded

Tips on how to Slow Down Leather Patina

If you’re someone who wants to slow down the leather patina process you can do a few things to keep your items like new.

I’ll never understand why you would want to, but there are options. Keep in mind that patina will still form, but it will take much longer.

General Tips on Slowing Down Patina

Consider how you store your leather goods. Leather needs to breathe and requires ventilation to prevent mildew or rot to set in. Never leave your leather goods it in plastic bags or damp areas.

Avoid direct sunlight on any of your goods.

Avoid handling or storing leather goods in your pockets for an extended duration of time. Friction and oils from your hands/pockets can darken or discolor leather goods.

Apart from the above, the best way to slow down the patina process dramatically is:

  1. Cleaning your leather goods
  2. Conditioning your leather goods
  3. Sealing your leather goods

Do you Condition, Clean or Waterproof Leather Goods?
*Based on 204 Surveyed Popov Leather Customers

61.5%

136 People said Yes

38.5%

85 People said No

Cleaning your Leather Goods

Constant care and attention to your leather is required to keep your goods in perfect condition. The biggest part of upkeep includes cleaning your goods after every use.

Leather cleaners remove grease from dirt, dust, and oils absorbed through using the product.

When seeking out a leather cleaner, the best ones contain surfectants that attract dirt from the cracks and crevices of leather. Never use regular soap as this can dry out the leather and cause cracking.

Always use solutions with neutral pH and without alcohol or abrasives (these can damage the leather).

Leather Cleaners we Recommend

Lexol Leather Cleaner
Chamberlain's Leather Cleaner

Directions for Cleaning

While you can use Saddle Soap to remove grime, it’s our recommendation to seek out Lexol leather cleaner. Saddle Soap works – but it has a high amount of fat and oils which can darken the leather coloring. Instead, we recommend Saddle Soap is used for conditioning and sealing.

The easiest way to keep your leather goods clean is to simply wipe them down with a microfiber cloth whenever they are exposed to the elements.

  1. Remove dirt build up by first wiping the item with a soft cloth.
  2. Apply a dime-size portion of the cleaner to the item
  3. Wipe in circular motion
  4. Remove excess cleaner with a dry cloth
  5. Let the cleaner set
  6. Wipe the item every time it’s used. This simple action will preserve the appearance for months.

I challenged myself to run 5 km to work every day for a year in Calgary. Every morning, I would throw in my driftwood cardholder in my backpack along with my keys. As I ran, the keys left small scratches on my cardholder.

- Steven Yu

Conditioning your Leather Goods

Cleaning is great for keeping the leather pristine, but like our skin, it also needs moisturizer. That’s where leather conditioner comes in. Conditioners adds moisture to the leather and keeps the surface soft and supple.

Leather Conditioners we Recommend

Lexol Leather Conditioner
Fiebing's Saddle Soap
Popov Leather Saddle Soap

Directions for Applying Leather Conditioner

These can be applied in small amounts and rubbed into leather. A good rule of thumb is to condition once per month to keep your leather goods looking shiny and healthy. This can also depend on where you live – more arid or dry locations will require more moisturizing.

  1. Apply a dollop of conditioner to a soft cloth.
  2. Gently rub conditioner into leather
  3. Use soft dry cloth to remove excess conditioner
  4. Let set for 6 hours as leather absorbs the oil

Sealing your Leather Goods

The final step of the overall care process is to seal the top layer of the leather with a protectant.

A protectant stops natural oils and moisture from escaping leather. This is great for items that are exposed to natural environments and in particular the sun.

Products we Recommend

Saphir Chromexcel Greasy Leather Cream
Popov Leather Saddle Soap

Directions for Applying Leather Protectant

  1. Apply a dollop of protectant to a soft cloth.
  2. Gently rub protectant into leather
  3. Use dry soft cloth to bring a polish to the surface
  4. Ready to use immediately

 

  1. Apply a dollop of protectant to a soft cloth.
  2. Gently rub protectant into leather
  3. Use dry soft cloth to bring a polish to the surface
  4. Ready to use immediately

 

A Journey Without an End

Patina can look different on any type of leather goods. It’s as unique as the person who carries it and tells a story about their life.

The common thread between all well-loved leather goods is that they get better with age and that no two are alike. It’s a feature that’s highly sought by folks who appreciate high-quality leather goods.

Leather patina doesn’t have a destination or an end. It’s meant to be an experience that continues to evolve with its owner. Whether you strive for wear and tear or take the utmost precautions with your leather goods; patina is inevitable.

So embrace those scratches, dings and nicks.

These are the permanent etchings of your life told through a cherished object.

I think it was during your 5 year anniversary sale that I purchased two belts. I intentionally bought them 2 sizes too small with the thought that I would lose the weight and it would be a motivational tool.  

I put those belts somewhere I would see them everyday. It was a reminder of who I was and who I wanted to be.

Well, I'm happy to admit I'm down about 30lbs (13kilos) and I finally fit into those belts. Only on the 2nd hole right now but it's been a huge confidence booster, and it gives me more motivation to lose the last 10-15lbs to get to my goal weight.

Would I have lost all this weight without the belts? Probably, I had a lot of other influencing factors in my life 4 months ago that pushed me to change. Did having the belts motivate me to keep moving when things got tough? Hell yes.

If you read all this, thanks. I know it's a personal story that you don't have much vested interest in.

The main take away is that if I wasn't so in love with patina, and if you didn't make such beautiful leather goods, I would have no tangible way of remembering this experience.

- Anonymous


Guide to Leather Grades

Guide to Leather Grades