Behind-the-Scenes: What is Patina?

Janice Stiles

What is patina?

Patina is a chemical process that happens naturally when metal is left in the elements. The metal oxidizes when exposed to air, much like an apple starts to turn brown after being cut. Patina is what makes an antique copper pot develop spots and darken in color.  I’ve had several collectors ask what the difference is between patina & rust, other than the fact that patina is pretty and rust is notPatina and rust are both types of surface corrosion but patina protects the metal where rust is destructive.  

Patina Round Earrings

Check out the Tres Elegante Designs Patina Round Earrings! 

All tarnish is considered either patina or rust, but it’s the pretty blue-green patina that most folks find desirable. The metals that will turn a pretty blue green are brass, bronze & copper as all of them contain copper. However, the particular shade of blue-green is hard to predict and even harder to control. Old buildings with copper roofs will have sections that are blue-green, some that are more green-blue, some that simply darken and other areas that look black.  It’s all considered patina and the roof has been equally exposed to water, oxygen, carbon dioxide and other chemicals from the surrounding air or rain. Patina does what it wants!

Patina Rectangle Earrings

Today, patina is created by artists who use chemicals to speed up the process that nature would do over many years. As each metal reacts differently to the chemicals, it needs to be carefully applied. Both the ambient weather conditions, and the time and method of application, affect the resulting color and is difficult to control. Patina with an organic look is most desirable and demonstrates the skill of the metalwork artist.

 There are artists who choose paint as an alternative to creating an actual patina. Paint is much lesser quality and just sits on the surface of the metal. True patina has much more depth and reacts to light as you move it around. A piece may look very dark from one side and light and mottled from another side. Artists have created patina since ancient times. Today, patina creation may involve immersion, spraying, heat, air contact, brush, dabbing and even combinations of techniques. 

Patina & Pearl Pendant

Check out the Tres Elegante Designs Patina & Pearl Pendant! 

This handmade copper jewelry, already versatile in its mixed materials approach, can be worn two ways, either with the pearl or without, just by turning the pearl to the back of the disc. The freshwater pearl is a lustrous white in color, which nicely contrasts with the blue-green patina. 

Patina needs a bit of care, but can last a lifetime. Never polish or clean patina if you want it to remain. Jewelry that incorporates patina has been sealed in some way, typically with wax or lacquer.  It will continue the patination process, as it’s still exposed to the elements, but will do so very slowly. 

Patina Cuff

Another question I’m asked is about the green color that sometimes happens with copper jewelry. The green color is not harmful in itself, and is typically from perspiration (salt) reacting with the copper to start creating patina!  Copper is actually antimicrobial and antifungal. This means that it stops or slows bacteria, fungus & viruses. I’m not a doctor, but I have a number of collectors that report wearing copper is beneficial in a number of health areas. Wiping a piece of copper jewelry with a soft cloth after taking it off will slow the oxidation that leads to the green color. 

Be sure to check out my Patina Collection to see more beautiful pieces feating this technique. If you are inspired to create a custom piece of fine art jewelry featuring patina, reach out to me at! 

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