How Fonderie 47 Transforms AK-47s Into Luxury Watches, Jewelry, And Pens (Video)
Journalists working in watches and jewelry may have heard stories from Audemars Piguet’s Martin Wehrli about how in the old days he occasionally transported in his suit pockets valuable jewels and gemstones from all over the world back to Le Brassus for use in high jewelry watches.
There’s a similarly true story concerning Patek Philippe’s Philippe Stern: he began populating the Patek Philippe Museum with timepieces from his private collection by carrying them on his person in a successful effort to fool potential thieves who may have been on the lookout for a transport truck.
While it’s almost incredulous, this sort of thing is actually not uncommon.
Fonderie 47 founder Peter Thum experienced something similar when he was figuring out how to transport illicit AK-47s from Africa to the United States to use in his company’s watches (see Forget Ploughs To Ploughshares: Fonderie 47 Transforms AK-47s Into Haute Horlogerie), jewelry (see Every Piece Of Liberty United Jewelry Helps Save Someone From Gun Violence), and pens (see The Pen That Is Mightier Than The Sword: Fonderie 47’s Exclusive Collaboration With Cross and Fonderie 47 Cross Peeress Collector’s Edition Pen Saves One Life At A Time).
Fonderie 47 uses metal from AK-47s that Thum decommissions in Africa to create parts for its products; the idea is to turn a tool of violence into a symbolic and inspiring luxury object, giving clients not only the feeling they are doing something good for the world, but allowing them to actually do good for the world. Thum personally sourced the rifles in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“The AK-47s that we got from Africa had all been confiscated by rangers in Virunga National Park,” he explained the origin of the weapons he uses. “An UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s home to the last 200 or so silverback gorillas in the world, rich in natural resources, and in the geographic center of the conflict that has been raging in eastern Congo since just after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.”
Fonderie 47 made a donation to the park ranger service, which in turn helped obtain the guns. “We recorded all the relevant information about the guns: serial numbers, type, country of manufacture. We then took them to a local blacksmith, who destroyed them by cutting them up with hacksaws and heating up the parts in a fire. When they were red-hot, he hammered them until they no longer were recognizable. We then packaged the material and transported it back in our luggage. Without these guns, we never would have succeeded at producing products. We also worked in parallel to figure out how to ‘export’ this material legally because exporting guns from Africa to the U.S. is not legal.”
If you think that was as easy as that, you’d be mistaken. “Getting the guns in the U.S. was difficult and involved developing relationships with law enforcement leaders, which was difficult because they didn’t know us and no one had ever asked them to do anything like this before,” Thum continued. “Also, we had to learn about the legal and logistical issues involved and then solve the various problems that arose.”
Once in the United States, the metal needed to be worked further to be suitable for its new purpose. Fonderie 47’s blacksmith set up a gas-powered forge in Brooklyn, New York, which was especially constructed to work the metal, transforming the destroyed AK-47 steel into ingots usable by artisans in the watch and jewelry industries.
In Brooklyn the blacksmith heats the steel in his forge, hammers it, and folds it over and over until it reaches the desired shape and consistency.
To complete a Fonderie 47 Inversion Principle three-minute tourbillon, an ingot, which no longer even remotely resembles an AK-47, is sent to the Swiss watchmaker for incorporation in the timepiece.
The AK-47 steel is cut by laser, filed, and ground before being galvanized to not only make it completely black, but to also ensure no further oxidation of the material – which could harm the mechanical movement it is destined to become part of. It goes without saying that tolerances must be ensured to the micron.
This is beautiful, practical, and precise luxury with a conscience.
For more on Fonderie 47’s watch, jewelry, and pens, please visit:
Also published on Medium.