I am one of those people who loves all things vintage, antique or slightly worn. I once lived in a house not unlike the one in the Brady Bunch. I own a collection of vintage dresses, purses and jewelry. While on a trip to Colorado about 10 years ago, I fell in love with a table that was made of old petrified wood. (Had I not driven in a Volkswagen Beetle from Texas to Colorado and back, you’d better believe I would have brought that table home with me!) One of my favorite things, though, is when metal gets “old”. Occasionally, we have customers ask if a certain metal is going to “turn”, rust or tarnish. I know they are asking that question because they don’t want the metal to change. Is it kinda weird that I like my jewelry to look lived in and worn? Perhaps that is why, in my designs, I always gravitate towards finishes like gunmetal, antique brass and antique copper. Sometimes, though, I do like to play with metal and see exactly what I can do to make it my own. That is where my love of patina comes in.
“What exactly is patina?”, you may be asking yourself. Patina is described as “a green or brown film on the surface of bronze or similar metals, produced by oxidation over a long period”. (Interestingly enough, it is also defined as “an impression or appearance of something”.) There are several different ways you can patina your metal so it has an antiqued, weathered appearance, leaving your designs with a very vintage vibe. I think patina looks best on copper but it also works with other base metals, most notably brass. This process is used not only in jewelry, but also in the fine arts, particularly in metal sculpture. If you are like me and like a variety of different crafting mediums, you may find that you like to patina things that can be used not only in DIY jewelry pieces, but in scrapbooking and decorating projects as well. Below I will detail 5 different methods to patina metal jewelry making components such as pendants and charms. I will also show you photos of my experimentation with each different method.
Before you Begin: Clean your Piece
Whichever method you choose to use, make sure you always clean your metal first. Exposure to the acid in your skin and/or air can prevent your pieces from receiving their patina treatment successfully. Using a dish soap can help take away some of the stuff that builds up on metal. (I have also heard that using baking soda and steel wool can also help clean pieces, but I have never personally tried it.) Make sure you know what you are working with. Most of the more organic processes are recommended for genuine copper or genuine brass; in other words, plated pieces may not work as well. Since base metal beads, findings and pendants are generally inexpensive to buy, it doesn’t hurt to try one – or all – of these methods to see which look is your favorite.
Choose A Method:
1. Swellegant products
There are a couple of products that help you immediately achieve that weathered look on metal. My favorite is the Swellegant Tiffany Green Rust patina. As the name would imply, it gives metal pieces a greenish hue. I also love the Swellegant Darkening patina, which adds an oxidized look to metal pieces. Both are very easy to use. Simply grab a craft brush or sponge and apply the liquid to your piece. I made the mistake of submerging a pendant in the green rust patina the first time I tried it and all of the color distributed itself to the bottom of the pendant. Painting or sponging it on definitely makes the distribution more even. (What can I say? Sometimes we learn from our mistakes!) If you are not satisfied with the first coat, apply another one. If you want the patina to settle into a certain area, make sure you concentrate the liquid and your efforts in that area.
2. Vinegar and Salt
If you have white vinegar and salt in your kitchen pantry, you might be interested in this fun DIY project. Mix a few tablespoons of vinegar and a few teaspoons of table salt in a glass mixing bowl. Stir. Submerge a copper pendant or filigree piece in the mixture and let it soak. When you are satisfied with the process (which can take hours to days), remove the metal from the mixture, place it on a paper towel and allow it to air dry. It will continue to turn, even when on the paper towel, so keep checking on the transformation. When you are satisfied with the progress, give your metal piece a good rinse and allow it to air dry.
Another thing you can do to patina your metal, especially natural copper, is submerge it in water. One thing every beader should know is that nothing will “turn” a metal like exposure to certain elements: air, water, the level of acidity in a person’s skin. Submerging metal pieces in regular old tap water will help speed the process of transforming metal. You will have to watch your piece to see how the transformation is going and give it quite a bit of time, but this is a very inexpensive and easy way to alter the look of metal. I, for example, submerged my copper disc pendant in a glass of water and let it sit for a couple of days. It wasn’t really doing too much and I don’t exactly have the patience of a saint, so I added a dash of table salt. Check out the green “crystals” that are forming! At the time this photo was taken, the pendant had been soaking for almost a week. I am letting it soak for another week to get a look with a bit more green. But I like how the pattern is forming in a random way that I could never duplicate again!
4. An Egg
I have heard quite a bit about the use of sulfur in the oxidization and darkening of metals. You can buy liver of sulfur and mix it with hot water to use on metals like silver and copper. Do you know what else works in the same way? A warm hard boiled egg. That’s right: an egg. Simply boil your egg as though you are preparing yourself a breakfast but, instead, slice the egg in half after it has boiled but while it is still warm. Put it in a plastic baggie with the metal pendant, charm or finding you want to darken and let it sit. It takes more time than a liquid product like Swellegant would, but it allows you to watch the process happen and to do it in a way that you know is perfectly natural and safe. I put my egg and my pendant in a baggie and the picture you see shows what it looked like after 2 days. I like the fact that the little spots on the pendant were caused by drops of condensation from within the bag.
Want to patina your metal in a way that gives those pieces a metallic rainbow effect? Then you are braver than I am, but there is something you can do. If you have a torch – and I burn myself with clothing irons, so I try to stay away from such things – you can apply heat to metal. To do this, you just pass the torch over the metal quickly and the heat will cause the metal to change colors. Pretty cool!
For the purposes of this article, I used the same natural copper disc pendant to make sure that the look achieved would come across in a uniform way. I would recommend using the more natural methods – such as the egg and the salt water or vinegar and salt – on flatter discs and charms in natural brass and copper or even on pewter. Of course, you can also use the Swellegant products on the same pieces as I did, but I have also used the rust patina and the darkening liquid on brass embellishments from Nunn Design and I really like the way you can concentrate the liquid on the more oxidized or central spots on the embellishments. Since you can customize where the product goes, I just feel that Swellegant is better when you want to control the look of the patina on your pieces. To patina filigree pieces, you can either use a commercial product or a natural method, depending on how much control you want over the finished look of your piece.
Need some inspiration for how to use your newly “turned” piece? Check out the following beading projects that feature components with an antique finish:
If you have had any experience with patina – particularly, if you have turned your kitchen into a patina practice zone like I have – I would love to hear about it. If you know of a fun and easy way to antique your metals that was not covered here, please share! I would also love to hear how you use pieces to which you have applied patina in your designs.