a comprehensive guide to unlacquered brass

let's have a chat about one of my all-time favorite materials: unlacquered brass. this is one of the most mistreated and misunderstood materials in the design industry, and hopefully this post will shed a bit of light on what it is, how to treat it, buying it, and designing with it.

 a beautiful, low-maintenance patina gives any room a special touch that no manufacturing process can

a beautiful, low-maintenance patina gives any room a special touch that no manufacturing process can

we all know brass is the trend of the moment; it's everywhere. though I'm so hyped for that, with the market being so brass saturated, many consumers have no idea what the difference between brass types are, and could care less between getting colored plastic, pvd coated, or unlacquered pieces. this is especially true when it comes to the plumbing industry. so here I am, making the case for unlacquered brass everything.

 newport brass is well known...shockingly...for their unlacquered fixtures

newport brass is well known...shockingly...for their unlacquered fixtures

first off, let it be noted that all faucetry is referred to as "brass." (almost) all faucets start as brass (if not a metallic coated plastic), and finishes are applied after the initial casting. there are several standard finish offerings in the luxury brass market that you will see:

- powder coating: tiny plastic beads are applied to the metal surface, then put through an oven of sorts and melted to form a durable epoxy finish. powder coats are relatively soft, and can scratch or etch fairly easily.

- physical vapor disposition (pvd): this is the strongest finish available, and makes a piece resistant to rust, patina, and scratching. the pvd process is done by electromagnetically bonding the finish to the surface of the brass, melding the finish with the faucet, and makes it virtually impossible to un-bond the finish from the faucet.

- clear coat: a usually natural metal finish coated in an aptly named clear coat to preserve the characteristic of the material at the time of coating. clear coats can be easily scratched though, which leaves the exposed area susceptible to the natural chemical changes of the material (oxidation, tarnishing, etc.).

- living: very similar to jewelry plating, these are plated finishes that have no protective coatings/undergo no protective process post-plating. these finishes are prone to the natural oxidation, rusting, tarnishing, and patina of the plated material. living finishes are extremely delicate, easily damaged, and difficult to clean.

with that being said, drumroll please...

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unlacquered brass is a living finish!

 even after tarnishing or left to patina for years, ulb can always be polished back to its original state

even after tarnishing or left to patina for years, ulb can always be polished back to its original state

if living finishes are such a MIGRAINE to deal with, why on earth deal with it?? there are so many alternatives out there, why pay the money to deal with the hassle?

well, because there's not really an alternative. sure, you can get an "unlacquered brass finish" faucet on amazon and save a few sheckels:

 an obviously very real and convincing plastic faucet that will undoubtedly live up to its $48 price tag.

an obviously very real and convincing plastic faucet that will undoubtedly live up to its $48 price tag.

or you can opt for true unlacquered and reap the tangible beauty:

 the beauty of unlacquered brass faucet in the beginning stages of patina

the beauty of unlacquered brass faucet in the beginning stages of patina

the patina of ulb can't be recreated by any manufacturing process; most of the beauty stems from the patina and oxidation as it becomes a part of your home. additionally, it can always be cleaned and polished back to its original, shiny state. in short, unlacquered brass is just special.

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speaking of cleaning, when cleaning unlacquered brass, never use any chemical cleaners; an occasional wipe-down with a soft, natural soap is just fine. treat it as you would a fine jewelry piece and let nature take its course. as an added benefit, less cleaning is better when it comes to ulb! brands sometimes recommend/offer their own cleaner, but I've personally found that a mere weekly wipe-down with a natural dish soap keeps the patina in its truest and best condition. ensure water spots don’t dry on the faucet, as those will cause a disruption in the oxidation process.

 a slightly aged ulb faucet

a slightly aged ulb faucet

with so many manufacturers catching onto the brass trend, you need to be extra cautious with the finish you purchase. be sure to look for a true unlacquered brass, and always see the finish in person and order a sample chip if possible. brands like newport brass have as many as 27 finishes, so it's critical to see which one you're getting. (since it's more than likely going to be a special order finish and have an extended lead time, it would be such a shame to get it wrong...especially if you couldn't return it!) taking the time to get it right the first time is well worth it, or your project could be in serious hurt.

 pure, unadulterated, brass <3

pure, unadulterated, brass <3

a huge benefit to unlacquered brass, unlike the majority of other finishes, is that unlacquered brass is universal, so all pieces will have the same out-of-the-box appearance regardless of your manufacturer - assuming it’s genuine. this will prevent the massive headache that is finish-matching! oxidation happens quickly, so the only issue you might run into would be an oxidation mismatch if your components will be installed at significantly different times (months). generally, the patina is darkest after two years.

ordering a "weathered-brass" or "antique-brass" finish will be significantly more difficult to finish match, though can be a solid option if you're unable or unwilling to wait for the look of the unlacquered.

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unlacquered brass is a pretty heftily priced and delicate material, but it is well, well worth the money and will last you a lifetime if you are willing to take the time and make the financial investment. with the patina of each piece, there literally are no two unlacquered pieces alike, making ulb indisputably the leader of the brass trend, and all faucetry in general (not at all biased).

so what do you think, to embrace or not to embrace the unlacquered?! are you willing to take on the challenge?

x - mk