How To Age Natural Vegetable Tanned Leather

Last year, I decided I to try a natural, undyed, vegetable tanned leather strap. This leather starts out a very pale tan color with pink undertones. Normal wear will darken the leather as air, light, the oils of your skin, and other environmental factors do their work, eventually developing a rich color and patina. I got one from J. Grants General Store. In my review, I described it as being stiff and "the color of properly cooked pork." I promised to follow up later as the patina developed. My intent was sincere, but months passed with no follow-up article.
November 2013: Brand new. 
The Time Bum did not forget his promise, dear readers, but when you have a bunch of watches and straps, most of them tend to stay in the drawer, so the aging process moved a bit slower than I had planned. Several weeks after that review, someone noticed the stap on my watch and asked if it was supposed to be white or pink. I went into my explanation about the aging process of undyed leather, but I had to admit the truth: it still looked like pork, and that was not the color I was aiming for. It was time to get this patina party started.
Late December 2013: Not very different
Here at Time Bum Laboratories, we take the scientific method seriously, so every step was carefully recorded and documented, more or less. My first method, if you can call it that, was just let it age on its own. I wore it, let it get wet, took no care to protect it, and waited for results. The problem was that I just did not wear it enough. Wearing the strap for a day or two at a time every couple of weeks  was not going to give me the desired result anytime soon. I tried leavingit on a window sill for a few weeks. This thing was skin after all, so some of the old ultraviolet would surely do something, right? The strap did change a bit, but it was all moving rather slowly. That is when I realized most modern windows have an anti-UV coating.

Next, I tried oil. I figured if the oil from my hands would eventually darken it, some mink oil would do the trick in no time, but it was not so. I noticed only the slightest difference. Moreover, since the oil  protected the leather from other environmental factors, it actually may have slowed the process. It made the strap feel nice, but it was time for more drastic measures.
January 2014: The window sill treatment
I threaded a loop of twine through one of its holes and tied it to a chair on my deck. It sounds awful, but trust me, it was all in the name of science. It was January and we had a few inches of snow on the ground so the reflection maximized the otherwise limited daylight. I noticed a difference in color after the first day. After a week exposed to the elements, the leather developed a mellow caramel color. I treated it with conditioner to counteract the drying effect of its time in the wild and decided I was almost ready to write that follow up article.
Late January 2014: Strap endures snow and ice, gets a sun tan.
All of a sudden it was June. I hadn't worn the strap more than once since I brought it in from the snowstorm. I figured it was time to have at it again, and what better way to weather something than to take it to the beach? I slipped it onto my Blue Mako and while The Time Bum played beach bum, I let the sun, surf, sand, and occasional spilled beer work their magic. It went into the pool, into the ocean, it made sand castles with my son, it spend lazy afternoons lounging in the sun. 
June 2014: Beach Week!
By the end of the vacation it looked pretty beaten. The water had leeched out the oils, leaving it very dry, and the surface was scoured by the sand. Once more, a little oil brought it right back, and the caramel color deepened just a little bit more. I was ready to declare victory.
After Beach Week: Hungover
When you compare the current photos to those taken when it was new, it is hard to believe that it is the same strap. The leather has softened, stretched a little, and darkened considerably. If you like the unique character that comes with wear, I'd say you need at least one in your collection. In a way, they make the perfect beater strap, because they need wear and tear to archive their true potential. My advice would be to get the natural, vegetable tanned, undyed leather strap of your choice and wear the crap out of it, exposing it to as much sunlight as possible and conditioning it only when it gets dry. You will be rewarded with a strap that is uniquely your own.
August 2014: After a little mink oil rejuvination, a nice toasty brown





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