Made from Melted-Down Firearms, TRIWA Watches Aim to End Gun Violence
The watchmaker is testing new uses for Humanium Metal, an alloy made by Swedish nonprofit IM from seized weapons.
Simon Marke Gran used to wear his grandfather’s gold Omega watch. Last year, he switched to wearing one made of recycled firearms.
He himself helped bring the timepiece to life. Working at IM, a Swedish nonprofit development organization, he partners with creators and companies to make new products out of illegal guns seized by Latin American governments, melting them down into a reusable alloy called Humanium Metal. TRIWA, a watchmaker, was the first to put the recycled material to use, and Marke Gran has had a TRIWA watch on his wrist ever since. “This is its own legacy, one for the future” he says — rather than a family heirloom honoring the past, this watch looks forward to the possibility of peace.
He’s not alone in feeling that way. Orders from more than 2,000 people have allowed IM and TRIWA to melt down nearly 5,000 guns, and the UN added the Humanium Metal Watch to its permanent exhibition of disarmament in 2018. Now, TRIWA is running its second Kickstarter campaign for a new model.
To support civil society, IM saw guns had to go
Since before World War II, IM has supported programs for women, minorities, and other marginalized people. “Historically, we are not a peace organization,” Marke Gran says. “It’s about work, empowerment, education, and strengthening civil society. But we’ve been working in Central America since the late ’80s and the end of the civil wars. When you work with women and youth in an area that is so affected by illegal weapons, then of course it’s a big hindrance. That’s when we started to connect these different issues to each other and to our work.”
Rather than sending in Westerners to address these issues, IM supported on-the-ground partner organizations that understood how to lobby local leaders for gun control — and how, in corrupt countries, many seized weapons quickly make it back onto the street. “It’s a huge global problem,” Marke Gran says, “and countries lack the funds to destroy the weapons.” So IM decided to step in and help.
Recycling gets junked up in bureaucracy
To be fair, recycling guns is complicated. They come in oily and dirty, far from a commercially viable material. At first, that looked like a major roadblock for IM. “We, as an NGO, lacked all the knowledge about production and steel,” says Marke Gran. But universities, steel producers, and brands excited about the idea stepped in to guide them. They wound up producing a 316/316L alloy in powder form, suitable for making new products, from phones to furniture.
What really makes the work difficult, Marke Gran says, is the bureaucracy of negotiating how to legally seize, hand off, and melt down guns, all while lobbying for better gun control.
“We never buy any weapons, because then we would be in an ethical gray zone,” Marke Gran explains. “So we lobby with our partner organizations and we [say], ‘We can help you and take on the costs related to the destruction of these weapons, make money selling them as products, and give those funds back to your civic society, strengthen your congress, build social programs, work with violence prevention, etc.’”
In El Salvador, for example, IM’s local partners have helped disabled gun violence survivors find new livelihoods and have established violence-free zones in public spaces like playgrounds and parks. “These ‘neutral’ zones are crucial for working with youth on violence prevention, deterring them from joining organized criminal groups,” Marke Gran says.
A material difference
The Humanium Metal initiative started coming together in El Salvador at the end of 2016, and soon after TRIWA started working on a Humanium Metal watch. TRIWA founder Ludvig Scheja launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2018 and found support from more than 1,700 backers. His second campaign is extending the chain reaction of interest.
“Our industry is very conservative and status-driven,” says Scheja. “We saw an opportunity to work [with] a new type of precious metal to create a statement symbol rather than a traditional status symbol.”
“Now there’s a very high demand for the metal, which means that we can make an even bigger impact,” says Marke Gran. Brands — particularly American brands — are clamoring to make meaningful products for engaged consumers who want to show support for gun control laws, and new countries are expressing interest in melting down their weapons, too. “We are in negotiations to take Humanium Metal even further and have a bigger impact,” Marke Gran says.
He hopes that one day the Humanium Metal logo will be akin to a fair trade stamp or organic sticker, and that IM can continue to put money made from commercializing the recycled alloy toward supporting the civil society programs it’s always held dear. “It’s a full circle,” he says. “We’re giving people an opportunity to not choose violence and guns.”