Peter Thum’s signet ring is a striking object: a textured piece of steel and gold, hand-forged by jeweler Philip Crangi and concealing a secret inside the band—the serial number of the AK-47 from which it was made. Thum, a New York entrepreneur and humanitarian, started Ethos Water and sold it to Starbucks, then founded the nonprofit group Giving Water, which currently finances water projects in Kenya. The ring is the result of Thum’s latest project, begun a few years ago in Africa. He was disturbed by the large number of assault weapons he saw in the hands of young men there, so with John Zapolski he formed Fonderie 47, a company that helps destroy assault weapons in Africa by using them to create jewelry. The profits fund the Foundry 47 Foundation, a nonprofit group that works across the continent. In less than a year, Fonderie 47 has helped remove 6,000 AK-47 rifles from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The weapons are melted down into steel slabs and shipped to the United States, where they are forged into made-to-order pieces for men and women. The first designs were finished a few months ago and are being sold through private events and the company’s website.
"We are transforming something destructive into an object of beauty," Thum says, "pieces that will be handed down from one generation to the next, with each piece representing an exceptional design, but also representing a connection and commitment to our mission."
The jewelry, while subtle in appearance without any sparkling gemstones, makes a strong impression with its use of colored metals and artistic metal treatments. Many of the pieces are handmade and one of a kind, but they all share a sophisticated design aesthetic, such as the aged look of the signet ring or the sharp edginess of the gold-and-steel drop earrings, emblazoned with liquid gold patterns over steel.
The first pieces have been created by two innovative designers. Crangi, a 2008 winner of the Council of Fashion Designers of America award, made the rings ($25,600 and up) and earrings ($23,000 to $150,000). Roland Iten, a Swiss designer known for inventive mechanical belt buckles and jewelry, combined steel and 18-karat gold to produce hinged cuff links that can also join together to form a bracelet (about $32,000).
Forging jewelry in repurposed steel and 18-karat gold was an exercise in alchemy for Crangi, who trained as a goldsmith at the Rhode Island School of Design more than a decade ago. "It is a feral material to work with," he says, "because it was crudely melted down, and isn’t as pure. But it reinvigorated my love of fine jewelry through process and material." For example, his signet rings employ a centuries-old Japanese technique of melting gold over steel to form abstract patterns on the center of the ring. "There is a degree of seriousness and importance in the design," he says, "and it seems to incite a conversation."
Fonderie 47, www.fonderie47.com