There is no question that the old-world charm of the oil-rubbed bronze finish is what makes it one of the top three most popular finishes today when it comes to faucets or decorative hardware. It originally became popular during the early 1990’s, replacing Antique Brass as the finish de rigueur in traditional style décor. Part of the charm and what made it so popular was its “Living Finish” characteristic.
A living finish is what occurs when you have any metal (except stainless steel) that is not lacquered or protected by any other process. The finish will continually evolve through exposure to the elements, also called an oxidation process, which varies in different metals. In Copper you may see a green patina, or verdi gris. In the case of Oil-Rubbed Bronze, a lightening effect occurs in the areas where it comes in contact with the human hand, such as the faucet handle or a door knob. This is precisely its charm, the fact that it will acquire a “broken in” appearance within a relatively short period of time.
In the mid 1990’s the PVD (physical vapor deposition) technology was developed. PVD is a high tech process where the finish is applied inside a vacuum chamber; a base solid material is introduced into the chamber and vaporized to an atomic level. It then attaches itself to target surface in a thin film and becomes a solid material again. The difference between regular electroplating and the PVD process is that once the substrate becomes solid it actually becomes a part of the target surface as opposed to just a coating. In other words, if the surface is scratched it would not break the surface but when examined microscopically it appears to be dented. This process allows some plumbing and door hardware manufacturers to be able to offer a lifetime warranty.
In the case of Oil-Rubbed Bronze the PVD process is very challenging. Its lack of consistency is an issue very prevalent in Oil-Rubbed Bronze, and certainly aggravated in the PVD process. Its color variations may go from a light grayish brown color to a dark brown (almost Black) tone. In a specific case, a Taiwanese manufacturer accidentally ended up with a gun-metal color when trying to develop a PVD Oil-Rubbed Bronze finish during the trial and error process. They actually decided introduced this finish for their line of products.
In closing, the question is do you prefer a Living Finish? With its ever changing tonality, or do you prefer the stable and everlasting look of the PVD Oil-Rubbed Bronze? If you ask me, I would choose the living finish, after all that’s where its charm lies.