The metal case on a new watch might have once been part of an AK-47 owned by a gang member in El Salvador. The watch, made by the Swedish brand Triwa, is the first product to use a new material branded as Humanium–a metal made by melting down guns that have been confiscated by police.
“The watch industry is very focused on precious metals and status, and we saw with this metal we could use the symbolic value of a watch for something bigger,” says Ludvig Scheja, cofounder and creative director of Triwa.
The material is made by an international nonprofit called IM Swedish Development Partner, which collects government-confiscated guns, melts them down, and smelts them into steel bars. While in the past the remnants of old guns might have been sold as low-value scrap metal, or even dumped in the ocean as waste, two Swedish creative agencies suggested that IM should rebrand the material to give it new value. Thus, we now have Humanium. The sales of the material help victims of gun violence and fund development in the countries where the guns were collected.
Triwa began working with IM two and a half years ago and worked through the challenges of using a novel material. In its initial state, it isn’t pure enough to sit next to the skin, so the company developed a new process that turns the material into a powder and refines it into high-quality stainless steel before forming it into a case for the watch. “It’s a completely new way of making watches,” Scheja says. (The strap is made from either leather or recycled plastic bottles.)
The new process makes the material more expensive than alternatives, but the company is interested in using it in other products in the future. IM is also working with four other companies that plan to make products from the material. Triwa hopes that other brands are inspired to follow, such as automakers, though it believes that the visibility of watches makes the product a good fit. “It has strong symbolism,” says Scheja.
The Humanium project is in the early stages, having transformed a few thousand guns so far out of hundreds of millions of illegal weapons that exist worldwide. But it hopes to bring more awareness to the fact that around half a million people are killed by guns each year. Triwa’s first production run uses guns from El Salvador, a country with one of the highest homicide rates in the world, where firearms account for the majority of violent deaths.
The watch is currently raising funds on Kickstarter, with prices starting at $229 for early backers.