Peter Thum, the man behind watch brand Fonderie 47 has a talent for supporting social causes he feels are important and a skill for applying his business acumen to them. His unique take on business has resulted in the creation of a watch made from recycled parts of universal symbol of conflict, the AK47 assault rifle.
While most will assume this type of idea results in a cheap gimmick, consider the price tag that accompanies each watch – $350,000.
Realizing that high-end quality was needed to raise capital for his social venture, Thum approached two master jewelers, Philip Crangi and James de Givenchy, to design the precision timepiece and ensure that it met the tastes of the most discerning watch aficionados. For every watch sold, Thum arranges the destruction of 1,000 AK47s in Africa.
“Our resolve began several years ago when we learned firsthand about the devastating impact that assault rifles have in Africa,” says Thum. “These military weapons – mostly old, cheap and illicit – threaten not only lives but the potential for social and economic development. We decided to create something compelling and substantial to change what people believed was possible.” In Africa, assault rifles cost around 70% less than anywhere else in the world.
While prices have risen elsewhere since 1990, they have actually fallen in Africa. By reducing the supply of older, cheaper weapons, they aim to reduce the overall supply. While they can never hope to stop the import of weapons, the cost of replacing weapons from outside Africa is several times higher and Thum hopes this simple economic fact will help decrease supply within some conflict zones. Fonderie 47 turns over the related amount of funding from the sale of its jewelry to the Nobel Prize winning NGO Mines Advisory Group, who in turn carries out the technical oversight and physical destruction of the weapons in conjunction with the governments of Burundi and the Democratic republic of Congo.
Thum’s journey began in 2001 while working for McKinsey in Africa. He saw firsthand the devastation caused by the lack of clean water –illness and death from waterborne diseases. He had the idea to found a water company, Ethos Water, as a way to finance water-related projects in Africa. It resulted in a win-win situation that was eventually acquired by Starbucks, following which Thum served three years as Vice President of the company and Director of the Starbucks Foundation.
Ethos water went on to generate more than $6.2 million for water programs around the world, helping 420,000 people get access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene education. Another issue that bothered Thum during his time in Africa was the widespread presence of small arms in strife-ridden areas, particularly the notorious AK47 assault rifle.
“Here was a problem that really prevented any donated development dollars from having any impact,” says Thum. “So I thought, ‘let’s destroy these guns and convert them into something inspiring that makes people interested in the problem, while tackling the issue at the same time.” And so Fonderie 47 was born, and as with Thum’s water project, which made money through water, to improve water conditions, he decided to use the steel of the AK47 to make jewelry.
However, unlike the water project, the aim is to raise money to eliminate the source material, not support it. The project has already helped collect and destroy more than 34,000 weapons throughout the war zones of Africa, especially the Congo. Fonderie 47 creates jewelry, watches and accessories, using steel from AK47s, crafting them into unique pieces, each becoming part of a themed collection. For example, a pair of cufflinks from the Crucible Collection will set you back $11,000 and destroy 30 assault rifles. A necklace of Fonderie 47 steel, diamonds, rose gold and platinum from the Phoenix Collection will cost you $240,000 and destroy 800 assault rifles in Africa. New York designer James de Givenchy has created the Phoenix Collection, with an objet d’art as its centerpiece – an egg crafted from AK47 steel and conflict free diamonds.
Each piece bears the serial number of the weapon used to create it. Not knowing much about watch production did not stop Thum either. He sought out Vallée-de-Joux-based watchmaker David Candaux and designer Adrian Glessing and together they came up with a vision: a watch with all the features a serious collector would aspire towards, including an in-house movement and a case made from pink or white gold.
Their masterpiece, the Inversion Principle was born, a 42mm case housing a manually wound timepiece and three-dimensional dial. The jumping hours at 12 o’clock and retrograde minutes on the lower half of the dial suggest the kind of motion produced when loading a rifle.
Thum did not want the watch to resemble a wearable AK47. After all, the original idea for the watch was to, ironically, eliminate the very object after which the watch was modeled. The design team have rather built in subtle design features that hint at its job beyond a timekeeper. “We wanted to take something industrial and mass-produced and crude and transform it into something that is rare and refined and that comes from the finest tradition of technical and creative work,” says Thum.
The frame on the dial could be read as a gun sight and through the transparent case at the back of the watch a piece of blackened gun metal caps the ratchet wheel. Thum hopes that the lucky few who own the limited edition Inversion Principle watch will be among only a handful of people, who when asked for the time, will be able to answer with conviction: “It’s time for change.”