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How watches made of seized guns can help rebuild El Salvador’s economy

To reduce the number of weapons in the world, a Swedish nonprofit has established a supply chain for the metal produced by destroying seized guns. Now they’re being repurposed as watches made by TRIWA.

How watches made of seized guns can help rebuild El Salvador’s economy

Hundreds of millions of illegal firearms are floating around the various corners of the globe. Every day, thousands of people are killed due to armed violence. To help address this crisis and reduce the number of weapons in the world, a nonprofit organization IM Swedish Development Partner has been establishing a supply chain for the metal produced by destroying seized guns. The first weapons destruction program for the Humanium Metal project was carried out on November 2016 in El Salvador, producing 1 ton of the metal, according to IM. Since then, the organization produced more metal in November 2017, melting 1,825 illegal firearms, and continues to do so in Guatemala.

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Some of those melted guns are being repurposed to better ends–as pricey earbuds and a new series of watches made by Swedish watchmaker Triwa. Part of the sales generated from the metal, through the Triwa timepieces and other products, will be used to help rebuild El Salvador and other international victims of armed violence.

Peter Brune, senior policy adviser at IM, tells Fast Company that this project grew out of conversations with Johan Pihl, who at the time was the creative director at Great Works, a renowned digital bureau in Stockholm. The two had both been grappling with the same challenge: converting metal from seized firearms into a commodity for good. From these conversations, the concept of Humanium Metal emerged.

“It is an effort of hundreds of people who pooled their knowledge, creativity, and resources to make Humanium Metal into what it is today,” says Brune. “It has been many years of discussions and the building of mutual trust that has led to an agreement between IM and the Government of El Salvador that the metal that remains from destroyed firearms is made available to Humanium Metal.”

TRIWA’s creative director Ludvig Scheja says that the watchmaker wanted to design a timepiece that reflects the cause without being offensive. To that end, they incorporated references on the watch, including the HU metal logo on the case, the hard-brushed dial, and the fiery red contrasting detail to “remind wearers of the symbolic value of the watch.”

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On a production level, it took TRIWA two years to find a way to work with Humanium Metal. Ultimately, they managed to mold the watch cases into solitaire pieces, then add on the remaining parts.

“We hope this product draws attention to the issues of gun violence and that the wearers will feel proud of to be a part of a solution, spreading the message further,” says Scheja. “Watches have long since been a strong visual accessory filled with values. Crafted out of something that was once a destructive force, to form something useful–a stylish, statement timepiece, make watches the perfect fit to highlight the predicaments of our time.”

Scheja says that that TRIWA and IM hope that this collaborative project can prove to be a way of moving beyond the traditional values of status and affluence associated with watches, and encourage people to take part in a call for change through #TimeForPeace.

“When it comes to the community, we hope this project has a significant impact in educating people about the effects of gun violence through the support of local anti-violence organization,” says Scheja. “We have also seen the new job opportunities that this project has created, and last but not least, the product and topic itself will spark a fruitful discussion.”

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Brune, who has been working in Central America since the end of the 1980s, has seen how a growing awareness that the violence is a severe obstacle to an inclusive socioeconomic development. For the Humanium Metal project, IM is working with local civil society organizations to get funds from HM back into the communities. He cites the Survivors Network (Red de Sobrevivientes) of El Salvador as a key partner and the real activist towards working for sustainable peace.

“IM is supporting the work at community level, but also on national policy levels,” says Brune. “Stricter gun laws are one aspect, but more important is an increased awareness and evidence-based approaches to how different actors can work together. It is indeed encouraging that brands opt for using Humanium Metal and thereby give the customer a choice to support concrete peace work.”

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About the author

DJ Pangburn is a writer and editor with bylines at Vice, Motherboard, Creators, Dazed & Confused and The Quietus. He's also a pataphysician, psychogeographer and filmmaker.

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