Forced Patina on Bronze Watches: A How To

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Bronze watches are increasing in popularity by the day; a trend we are wholeheartedly supporters of. Bronze watches (sometimes brass, and of varying alloys) integrate really well into a watch collection. Usually of the tool watch variety, the warm metal hints at gold, but has a toughness to it that is altogether unique. For a few great examples of bronze watches, check out our reviews of the Archimede Pilot, Halios Tropik B, Ancon Tank, Maranez Layan and our look at the Makara Octopus Prototype.

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Part of what makes the metal so unique, and popular, is that it patinas over time. The metal oxidizes, creating a layer of brown, green and black marks that give each watch a distinct look. The darkening color and random nature of the patina adds to the rugged look of the metal, and the slow change and distinct wear speaks to the owner’s life and style. The patina itself is actually protecting the metal, preventing corrosion, which is why bronze is often associated with marine equipment.

Now… patina happens naturally as moisture and air come in contact with a watch case. So, as long as the watch is not in a vacuum chamber, it should patina over time. But, this can take a while. How long is hard to say, days, weeks, months… it likely depends a lot on the specific climate you are in, proximity to salt water, exposure to acid rain (really) etc. So, there are ways to “force” or rapidly create patina by exposing the metal to chemicals. Today, we’re going to explore 2 methods, both of which involve exposing to sulfur compounds: the egg method and liver-of-sulfur method.

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I will start by saying, this is an experiment. I’ve never done this before attempting for this article, and you should proceed at your own risk. There is potential to damage a watch due to a bad seal, as well as some health risks. If you are even the tiniest bit doubtful about the water-tightness of your watch, don’t do this. And if you don’t have good ventilation, also don’t even think about it. Patina can be polished off with out much trouble, unless it is in a textured area, in which case, it’s hard to get out. So, if your watch has lots of nooks and crannies, this might not be a great idea either.

The Egg Method

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Experiment:

What I immediately like about this method is that it uses things you almost definitely have at home already, and if not, can get quickly:

One Hard Boiled egg
A large sealable plastic bag

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That’s it…very simple. (should you not know how to make a hard boiled egg, here is a tutorial) The idea here is to use sulfur present in eggs (why they smell) to patina the metal. So, take one freshly hard boiled egg, place it in a sealable bag. Place your watch (remove the strap and make sure the watch is clean first) near the egg, but some distance away. Seal the bag and crush the egg… this is critical as the sulfur compounds are located in the yolk.

Lastly…wait.

If you’re forcing patina, in all likelihood, waiting isn’t your strong suit… so you can leave it for anywhere from an hour to…well, much longer.

Results:

I put a freshly polished Ancon Tank in with the egg for an hour, and the results were different than I expected. Overall, the watch had lost its luster, the color darkened though only a bit and there were many areas of green build up. This surprised me a bit as from what I read, green patina comes more from exposure to chlorine than sulfur. The watch had a slight milky film on it as well. Aesthetically, it’s interesting and distinctly nautical looking.

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I also tried the Makara Octopus Prototype (yes, I had their permission), which had almost no reaction, even after a second 3 hour attempt. There might have been a slight discoloration, but barely noticeable.

Liver of Sulfur Method

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Now, we’re going to get a bit fancier. Liver of Sulfur is a mixture of various potassium sulfides. It comes in various forms, but the safest and easiest to use is Liver of Sulfur Gel. Other types, such as the chunk form, can go bad, are flammable and pose some higher health risks. No matter what kind you use MAKE SURE YOU HAVE GOOD VENTILATION. This stuff smells like 1,000 rotting eggs and the fumes ain’t good for you. This is what you need:

Liver of Sulfur gel
A plastic or glass bowl/container
Hot Water
Something to mix with
Disposable gloves

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Put about 1 cup of warm/hot water into your mixing bowl and add a few squirts of gel. I’d be more precise, but the instructions said a couple of drops, which had no result…so instead, add LoS, mixing with the water, until a bright, acid yellow color is reached. Next, with your gloves on, put your watch into the solution. Make sure the watch is clean first and that the crown is secure. Leave in the solution for a few minutes, keeping a close eye on it. This happens fast, so you might want to pull it early. Once out, give a quick rinse to remove any excess LoS.

Results

After a few minutes, the Ancon, which was a very bright yellow bronze, developed a much darker tone with mottled color throughout. Pinks, greens and blues poke through the otherwise amber brown coating, creating a dynamic effect. The coating of the brown is also inconsistent, looking rough and almost like it was painted on for effect. Overall, it definitely gave the watch an aged, used and abused look that suited the Tank well.

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With the Makara, which has a much heavier copper content (hence the rosier coloring), the effect was dramatically different. After a few minutes, it primarily turned dark brown/black with turquoise highlights. The coating also was not bonded to the case well, and came off very easily. I’m not sure what was going on here, as LoS works for coppers as well, but perhaps there is a way to seal or stabilize the patina afterwards. Nevertheless, it was cool looking as the black on the edges came off quickly, exposing the bright metal underneath. The spotty contrast was very unique and, had it not been so easy to wipe off, certainly a look I could see going for.

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Polishing / Removing Patina

A quick google search will find various recipes for homemade patina removing solutions. They are typically acid based, the most common being with white wine vinegar and lemon juice. I looked into these and my concern with using them on a watch was that both involve a particulate ingredient as well, such as salt, flour and baking soda. With vinegar, you mix it with salt, and rub on the item. You can add flour to make it more of a paste. The lemon method includes making a lemon salt solution and placing your patinated item into it, letting it soak. My trepidation with these methods was getting something into the bezel mechanism, so I stuck to my trusted Cape Cod Cloth.

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If you don’t have some of these already, go and get them as they are very useful to have. With gloves on, simply rub away the patina. This will also clean and shine the metal as you go. Once the patina is all broken up, use a micro-fiber polishing cloth to get any excess off and polish the case up a bit more. The only issue here is that, like on the Makara bezel, it’s very hard to get into crevices.

Conclusions

In the end, I would say the experiment was a success. Both methods returned results, and slightly different ones at that. The CuSn8 alloy of the Ancon, which I believe has a higher tin (Sn) content definitely took to the force patina better that the more copper rich alloy of the Makara (which is only on this prototype model). Between the egg and the Liver of Sulfur, the LoS was much more efficient and had a more attractive result as well.

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Whether or not you want to force patina is really up to you. It is admittedly hasty, but it can also get you stronger results. It would take quite a while to get to the level that was reached with the LoS naturally. Though the process of wearing it, creating your own unique patina, adds to the bond and the story of the watch. Perhaps this is really best for those who want to refresh their interest in a bronze watch that doesn’t get enough wrist time. But, if that’s the case, make sure the watch’s seals are in order before trying this out.

What do you all think of forced patina? Do you have other methods of creating patina or polishing? Let us know in the comments!

by Zach Weiss

Images from this post:

Zach is the co-founder and Executive Editor of worn&wound. Before diving head first into the world of watches, he spent his days as a product and graphic designer. Zach views watches as the perfect synergy of 2D and 3D design: the place where form, function, fashion and mechanical wonderment come together.

wornandwound zsw
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  • Great article, this is why I read your site, this is something I don’t think would show up on Hodinkee or ABTW! I have had my bronze moray for almost a year and the patina is developing slowly, giving a lot more depth and richness to the case and bronze watches are still a rarity giving an exclusive feel unmatched in this price range, loving it!

  • I think leaving the patina in those hard to reach crevices results in a very interesting look.

  • The green highlights on the Tank is amazing!
    Any thoughts on using these methods on brass? I’ll try the egg on my Maranez Layan during breakfast this weekend.

    • w&w

      They should definitely work on Brass, which is copper and zinc rather than copper and tin. The results will likely be a bit different though.

  • Great tutorial. I would love to see the results of forcing patina on the Halios Tropik B.

    I thought CC cloths weren’t recommended for brushed surfaces? Did you just use it lightly without any pressure?

    • w&w

      Hi Josh,

      Good point. On steel, I would definitely be very careful and use this primarily on polished. The Makara had no brushing, so that is fine. The Ancon had very light brushing…more of an “unfinished” texture. So, yes, I wasn’t too aggressive with the CC.

      Any method that isn’t simply a soak is going to be a bit abrasive, but luckily the patina comes off without too much difficulty.

  • Ken

    I recall learning in school that the sulfur is in the egg white, not the yolk. It confuses people because people think sufur=yellow, but the yellow in the yolk comes from something else I don’t recall.

    I hope to get a bronze watch some day. I’m waiting for something identifiably steampunk yet stopping short of impracticality.

  • Hello!Great article,thank you!I have a question though.In the article you have said that:”The coating also was not bonded to the case well, and came off very easily.” Does it means that if I to wear the watch the forced patina will rub off on to the my shirt’s sleeve for example leaving the stain? I am eagerly waiting on my Macara watch to arrive in December by the way,thanks to your article.

    • w&w

      It might… but only the dense, black oxidization that came out. The alloy being used on the final Makaras is going to be different than the prototype, and might not have the same response. Naturally occurring patina does not seem to have this issue at all.

  • Great article! You have the best watch site on the web by far. I like hoodinkee, but the stuff they do is just not even close to affordable. ABTW videos reviews are terrible except for J. Stacey. They have no format are are way to casual with the reviews. Your consistent format and total coverage of the watches make for the best reviews! I know I am off topic, but just wanted to say keep it up. Btw, my tropik b is arriving soon and can’t wait to see how it develops over time.

  • Sean –

    I have the Maranez Layan as well. I’ve been thinking about doing the egg method as well. I’d love to see your results if you wouldn’t mind sharing. krwithers at gmail dot com is my email address.

  • I’m totally against forced wear. My wife once bought be a pre-distressed RL polo shirt. It was just weird.

    That said, these results look pretty cool and we are only on this earth for so long.

  • You guys got this idea from WUS!

  • Very informative article you have here. One question though, if a Stainless Steel Seiko Monster was used, will it yield similar results?

  • Excellent tutorial. Can’t wait to try it out.

  • disciplesofthewatch

    maybe we should pee on the watch?

    • Luke Atmidik

      Yes… urinating on your bronze watch will create an amazing rainbow effect like nothing you’ve ever seen.
      It’s a sight to behold and simply gorgeous.

      Get a plastic container and place your watch in it. Make sure the crown is tightened and the urinate on top of it.

      Make sure you do it this way as the warm urine helps achieve this look.

      Leave it in the urine overnight and in the morning take it out and rinse it off.

      I did this to a watch I once owned and it was amazing.

      If you don’t like the look it can be removed as with any bronze patina by using lemon juice.

      • Chris S.

        What I especially love about this is “A watch I once owned”… Like all good satire it is difficult to tell if you are being serious or not. If you are, okay, um I don’t want to buy any watches from you… If you are joking, well done!

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