Today, The Time Bum welcomes Guest Bum, Mr. Alastor. He is a full time husband, father, contractor, and watch freak. You can usually find him on Watchuseek or Instagram @thewristfund, unless he’s sleeping. I saw photos of his outrageous bronze patina experiments on Instagram and I had to get more. So sit back kiddies, while Mr. Alastor takes over Time Bum Laboratories for some ...
PATINA (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) “Patina (/ˈpætɨnə/ or /pəˈtiːnə/) is a thin layer that forms on the surface of stone; copper, bronze and similar metals (tarnish produced by oxidation or other chemical processes)… Patinas can provide a protective covering to materials that would otherwise be damaged by corrosion or weathering. They may also be aesthetically appealing.”
FORCED PATINA (From Mr. Alastor, the Patina Scientist) “Forced Patina (/fôrst/ /pəˈtiːnə/) is a term used to describe what impatient watch geeks do with their free time, usually involving blurred vision, too much caffeine, and frequent bathroom breaks.”
I will attempt to describe as simply and clearly as possible how to FORCE your bronze or brass cased watch to patina more quickly. Bronze/brass watches will always arrive with a bit of patina on them, as is the nature of these beasts (any watch case composed of an alloy containing copper will patina). It’s almost impossible to keep them “patina-less” without frequent upkeep. (Although I have been thinking of some methods, but that is for another article) If at any time your results are undesirable, and you wish to start over, you may remove the patina from your watch using NEVR-DULL Magic Wadding Polish. Another very popular product is Cape Cod Cloths, but NEVR-DULL was available in my local paint supply store. It works in the same way, but any product meant to clean brass or silver will work on your bronze or brass watch. Be warned you may need quite a bit of time and elbow grease to get that patina off!
Before we get started be sure your watch’s crown is completely closed, and screwed down if applicable. I would suggest removing the straps as well, because they may be damaged and will just get in the way of our patina science. For the most consistent results you may choose to clean your watch thoroughly using warm soapy water. Any oils from your body can block the patina from developing well, leaving you with an uneven result. Remember to dry your watch thoroughly and let sit to allow the bezel to drain out. Ready? Let’s begin:
METHOD 1: DO NOTHING
This is as simple as it sounds. Do nothing. Or should I say do everything? Wear your watch as if it were your pacemaker. Wear it to the beach. Wear it in the shower. Wear it to bed. The sweat, salt, water, and acids from your body and the world around you will patina your watch for you…and you won’t have to spend a dime. If you only own one pair of jeans, and you don’t wash them, this is the method for you:
The side-by-side picture above shows my Ancon bronze watch worn for about 5 days, then cleaned with NEVR-DULL…no forced patina involved.
METHOD 2: VINEGAR FUMING
The most readily available of all the patina helpers: vinegar. And when I say vinegar I mean ANY vinegar. If it smells strongly of vinegar then you got yourself a winner. Apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, red wine vinegar…you get the idea. Balsamic vinegar could work too, but I haven’t tried it. I even know a man who uses vinegar based all-purpose cleaner (yes I’m talking about you @llovera21). Vinegar Fuming involves some setup, so I will try to portray it using visual aids.
Use an old Chinese food soup container as the vessel and a plastic cup cut in half as the inner stand (poke holes in the bottom of the cup to allow for drainage).
Pour about an inch or so of vinegar into the soup container and place the stand inside the soup container with the flat side up.
Sit your watch on the cup stand face up or down. The part facing the bottom should get more patina, but your results may be different). Cover the vessel with an airtight lid or plastic wrap. Now wait.
We are, in a way, giving your watch a vinegar steam bath. I like to leave it in overnight, but I would suggest a minimum of two hours in the sauna to see significant results (four hours should be plenty). Your mileage may vary depending on temperature and humidity. The vinegar produces a nice green patina on the watch, but if not left to dry it will mostly rinse off. The example shown below sat in the vessel for 4 hours in a warm unconditioned room in the middle of the summer.
Vinegar Fuming Variations:
2a: Heat up the vinegar ONLY until simmering before filling the vessel with it (I use a microwave). This will speed up the process significantly, but your results will not be consistent. Imagine makeup + rain and you get the picture.
2b: Place the watch into the vessel before you pour in the vinegar. Pour the vinegar onto the watch into the vessel, and then sprinkle with salt. Salt makes everything better…don’t you agree? If you are a pirate, then be sure to use sea salt.
METHOD 3: AMMONIA FUMING
If you read Method 2 and thought to yourself "this isn’t producing enough noxious repulsive fumes," then Ammonia Fuming is the method for you. Follow all the same steps and procedures as Vinegar Fuming, but swap out your vinegar for Ammonia. Ammonia will produce much more exaggerated results, also the color produced tends to be more blue than green. Before and after:
METHOD 4: LIVER OF SULFUR DIP
This may be the mother of all patina methods, and for a good reason: This method produces the darkest forced patina I have seen, and works in the shortest amount of time. Unlike vinegar and ammonia, you will not notice much built-up oxidation, rather a beautiful dark tan (I like to use Liver of Sulfur as a final step in a forced patina recipe, but more on that later.) This method takes a mere hour from start to finish - if that. The most difficult part is sourcing Liver of Sulfur. It’s available online, but that means you need to plan ahead! I use the XL GEL brand.
Using your Chinese food soup container, you’re going to make a nice warm bath for your timepiece. Fill the container about half way up with warm water straight from the tap; it shouldn't be scalding, but nice and warm. The warmer the water the faster it will work, but don’t kill your watch! (When in doubt just make sure you can hold your hand inside the water without discomfort.) Next you’re going to take about two teaspoons of the Liver of Sulphur gel and mix it in with the warm water. You will now notice the foul stench. Somebody didn’t flush.
The dip is now ready for your watch. Tie a string around one of the lug bars to allow for easy dipping. You’ll want to check the watch frequently if you are looking for a specific coloration.
Once the watch is inside the bath it will be a matter of seconds before the Liver of Sulfur starts working its magic, and it will continue to work for about an hour.
The Liver of Sulfur works even when the watch is out of the solution, so if you want to halt the process and keep a specific shade of patina, dip the watch in a mild mix of baking soda and water (about two teaspoons baking soda to one cup of water).
METHOD 5: MADNESS
Although I have described all these methods separately, I tend to use them all on my watches. I have listed them in the order that I use them, but feel free to experiment and substitute ingredients.
And feel free to give your watch a little rub between methods, this is where science meets art.
I can’t wait to see your results!
One last thing: No matter what methods you choose don’t forget to patina your buckles! (Or button stud, if you have a FormFunctionForm strap). No one wants to walk around with a mismatched bronze watch and buckle.
That is the gist of it. I tried to be as brief as possible, but if I missed something, tough cookies. Go Google it.
Note: If you choose to use these or any other techniques to force a patina on your watch, you do so at your own risk. These methods are generally safe but chemical exposure may etch some alloys and will almost certainly void the manufacturer's warranty. Neither The Time Bum nor Mr. Alastor is responsible for any damage that may occur.