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How to get a great patina on your iPhone X leather case

Step one: Acquire an iPhone X or similarly expensive, common phone. Note that you probably want to protect it in some way. Understand that although it feels really good without a case, it’s really better if you use one for reasons that will become clear in later steps in this guide. Besides, that camera bump really is something, isn’t it? You can accept it, but honestly, you’ll never love it. So you might as well put a case around it.

Step two: Decide on a case you’d like to use. This is the most important step. It’s also a complicated process. I wish I could recommend that you do what I did in the above video and speak with Ashley Carman about her phone case series. You see, she regularly uses cases that many (aka a repressed person like me) might consider outrageously ostentatious — cases shaped like hot dogs, stuffed bunnies, or giant cherry pom-poms. I got lots of useful tactics from our conversation, but you’ll have to settle for cribbing off my notes here:

  • In America, the trend is generally to get plain black cases, emphasizing protection.
  • That’s a shame because a case is a relatively inexpensive way to personalize your phone. Did you know that there are fashion trends in cases? There are! They are super weird and interesting, and I won’t blow up Ashley’s spot by talking about them too much here. But later on, she’ll write about it for you.
  • While you ponder phone case fashion trends, think about the objects that are on your body literally every day: clothes, your phone, and maybe a wallet and keys. You know your clothes express something to the wider world. Why not have your phone do the same?
  • Plus, that case could be a great conversation starter, just like a cool jacket or shoes.
  • Phone cases and fashion aren’t just about the image you project to the world. They are also a way for you to communicate with yourself. Different clothing makes you feel more comfortable or bolder or avant-garde or whatever. Next to clothing, your phone is the thing you have around you the most. It’s a missed opportunity not to do something with that.

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

  • While you’re at it, think about how your phone is an object in your personal orbit, like your coffee table and your coffee mugs. You have some preferences about those things; you want them to be comfortable or cool. These objects say something about you. They make you feel something when you see them or hold them.
  • Realize that, as humans, we see signs in everything no matter what. Everything is communication. You could consult an expert on that issue to verify my claim, but that expert would end up talking about semiotics, and nobody really wants that.
  • Besides, the smartphone is a super weird object relative to other mass-produced objects. Not everybody has the same watch or T-shirt or coffee mug. They have a mix of new stuff, heirlooms that get passed down, and stuff they made themselves. Most of our stuff has a cultural resonance that speaks to its time and place and history, even if it’s mass-produced.
  • Except smartphones: they’re all basically the same, and they all basically get replaced every few years. They store our most intimate details, but they’re monolithic slabs that exist out of time and context, completely divorced from all the personality inside them. An iPhone is an iPhone, and a Galaxy is a Galaxy. Even if you go for some weirdo Android phone, it’s still hard to express your identity through a smartphone. (Well, okay. It’s not hard to express your personality through a smartphone at all, but it’s not a great or particularly interesting identity to express, so don’t pin who you are on what phone you buy.)
  • So think through all of this when you decide on a case — or don’t, honestly. If you tried to think about the cultural significance of every object in your life, you wouldn’t get anything done, and people would call you a semiotician behind your back, and nobody really wants that.
  • The point is: you shouldn’t feel bad for investing some care and thought into deciding which case to buy because it really does matter more than you give it credit for.

Step three: Having reviewed many of the existing leather cases for the iPhone X, decide on the one Apple sells, even though it’s kind of pricey. You will have made this choice because you want something simple, protective, and of decent quality.

Apple iPhone X saddle brown leather case: before and after.
Photo by Dieter Bohn / The Verge

Step four: Realize that the “saddle brown” color is actually kind of gross. The shade is way more yellow than you imagined. Look sideways at your friend who has had the case for a while, and note what a lovely patina it has. Ask how it got that way, and learn that his method was to “just use it for a long time, and it gets that way.” Decide that you will not wait “a long time,” but instead, you will jump-start this process.

Step five: Research methodology for tanning the leather on your phone. Or maybe “tanning” is not the right term. Kick some other search terms around. Watch some awkward YouTube videos. Stumble upon the most inadvertently heartwarming forum posts on the internet: the Patina Proud Photos thread on MacRumors. Here, people earnestly talk about their strategies for creating and maintaining the perfect patina on their iPhone cases. They are kind to each other, helpful, and supportive of each others’ efforts and methodologies. Please feel free to spend as much time as possible during this step; it is in these little corners of the internet where you are reminded of one of the reasons why you loved this online thing so much.

Step six: Realize there is no single, best method for getting a patina on your phone case. Also realize that it’s just a phone case, and it’s not that big of a risk to do some weird, DIY stuff to it. Resolve not to spend too much money (or any, if possible) on materials because you already overpaid for the case itself. Instead, you’re going to just muddle your way through this and accept two immutable truths:

  • When you’re done, you’ll have a case that you put some effort into. When you hold your phone or just see it sitting on the table, somewhere in your mind you’ll know: “I did that thing. That is the result of work that I did.” This is the feeling that craftspeople have all the time, and it is not a feeling you normally get from your phone. It is the feeling of pride from making something. This good feeling is not, to be clear, as strongly felt with a phone case as when you make something more ambitious like a chair or a meal or a Lego Millennium Falcon. However, though it is a smaller feeling, you will feel it more often because good lord you use your phone a lot.
  • Whatever method you choose, people who actually know a little something about leatherworking are going to be kind of horrified by what you chose to do. That is fine. This is not about Doing It Right. It is about Making It Yours.

Step seven: Remove the thin, protective coating on the iPhone X saddle brown leather case. I used sand paper. I also paid special attention to wear away the Apple logo on the case because, you know what, it’s my case now. Don’t overdo the edges of the case, as that’s where your hand’s natural oils are going to darken it more anyway.

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Photo by Dieter Bohn / The Verge

Step eight: Darken the leather. You can use pretty much any oil here. Some people pour espresso on theirs. Others spit on the leather. (Yes, it’s a thing. Don’t be squeamish.) Others use shoe polish. I used olive oil (it’s what I had) the first time, and coconut oil the second time (for the video above). It all works fine if you work it into the leather with a paper towel or something. You might have to do multiple coats. Try not to get too much on the felt lining of the case because it’s easier to wreck than the leather on the outside. Note that, as mentioned in step six, there is lots of advice about what is right or wrong here. Be confident and unapologetic in whatever method you choose, especially if it’s weird. It makes for a better story if anybody ever asks you about your case.

Step nine: Let it sit a while, preferably outside in the sun. The sun may help accelerate the patina process. Anyway, whatever method you used in step eight probably smells a bit, so leaving it outside helps to air it out.

Step 10: Put it on your phone and use it. You’ll notice that it feels weird and different, maybe too rough in some places and maybe the color is off in others. Let it ride. It will settle down over a week or so of use. You can accelerate that process by worrying the leather with your thumb. Just idly rub at the weird parts on the case while you’re zoning out at a meeting or in class.

That’s how to get a great patina on your iPhone X leather case.

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

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