What is a Patina?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Patinas are films that develop on the surface of a metal, wood, or other substance over a period of time. In many instances, the development of a patina is considered desirable and may actually enhance the value of the item. Sometimes referred to as natural toning, it was once only achieved with the passing of time. Modern methods have made it possible to create the film in a very short period of time.

Over time the wood on an antique chair develops a rich glow or patina.
Over time the wood on an antique chair develops a rich glow or patina.

One of the more desirable forms of patina have to do with the gradual development of a brown or green film on metal objects. Due to exposure to open air and the natural process of oxidation, an aged metal such as copper and bronze tend to develop a patina that is often a pleasing shade of green. Domes and roofs on buildings that feature sections of copper tend to develop this green shade over a number of years. The color is often anticipated in the original design of the structure and is an effect that the owners look forward to taking place over time.

Man in a leather jacket with a patina on it.
Man in a leather jacket with a patina on it.

A patina also often develops with various pieces of jewelry over time. In the case of jewelry that has reached an age where the pieces are considered antique, its presence is thought to enhance the overall appearance and value of the jewelry. When this is the case, cleaning the jewelry to remove the patina is not considered desirable, as the action will actually decrease the value of the piece.

Leather goods may also develop a pleasing patina over time. Leather jackets and belts will take on a darker brown color as the material begins to age and become suppler to the touch. This is one reason that many people prefer the look of aged leather to that of a new leather garment or accessory. The patina adds an air of being a comfortable and valued item, rather than something that just arrived from the store.

Weathered wood also achieve an attractive patina over time. Like antique jewelry, older wood furnishings and accessories may develop a hue or tone that speaks of many years of use and care. The natural aging process allows this film to develop and will add even more of a sense of history and permanency to the treasured piece.

Whether the patina is present on wood, leather, jewelry or metal, there is no doubt that the presence of this colorful film is often considered very desirable. This is sometimes due to the fact that the patina enhances the look of the piece, while at the same time reminding people of the enduring nature of the item that has remained around long enough to achieve it.

Copper and bronze statues will develop a green patina over time.
Copper and bronze statues will develop a green patina over time.
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


Patina is disgusting!! I bought a very old silver brooch from Peru and after a while of looking at that disgusting film, I gave it a hot bath with aluminum foil and baking soda (and I forgot what else, found it online) and gently scrubbed it with a brush: now it's brand spanking new and shiny!

I like my silver shiny, not filthy because people were too filthy-lazy to clean their goods. Equally, I've acquired a few pieces of wood jewelry and I'm desperate to find a way to clean that filthy residue! Gawd only knows how much bacteria breeds on that garbage!


I actually really like the right kind of patina. I have a handmade silver ring I got from when I was traveling around Africa. It was made by a local blacksmith who basically melted down some silver coins to make it.

It gets dark in the engraved bits, making them stand out, which I really like, particularly as the raised bits stay bright. But I noticed, when I was traveling, if a blacksmith saw that it had that patina, he would take it (politely) and clean it in acid to get rid of the patina, because they really like to keep their metal bright.

The patina always comes back though, so it's not really something to worry about.


@Fa5t3r - Yeah, I've seen the word patina used a lot in literary fiction and in poetry, almost to the point where you don't realize they mean it metaphorically, and you start to think that the word just means "a coating". Actually I wonder if those poets and writers really know what it means themselves.

But, in reality it means closer to "a tarnish" and should only be used to describe semi-permanent coatings, like a metal patina.


This is the correct definition for the term "patina", but it can also be used in a kind of figurative sense, like when people say that something has a patina of dust. They are comparing that dust film to the film that metal and other things get, talking about it like it's something more permanent than it actually is.

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