Entrepreneur Peter Thum has found an innovative way to help get weapons off the street. By joining forces with world-class jewelry designers, he and his company, Liberty United, are turning recollected guns and bullets into dazzling pieces of jewelry, while helping keep our streets safe, one bauble at a time.
Combine the far-flung worlds of high-end jewelry and illegal weaponry into an unexpected philanthropy, and you’ve got the business plan of entrepreneur Peter Thum.
Thum’s newest company, Liberty United, raises money to fund local not-for-profit, anti-gun-violence programs by creating jewelry out of recollected guns and bullet casings—but his mission to get deadly arms off American streets started a decade ago, in Africa.
This 45-year-old downtown New Yorker began his career as a business school grad and McKinsey & Company vet, but truly made his name as a socially conscious corporate innovator. In the early 2000s, Thum co-founded Ethos Water, a bottled-water brand that devoted a portion of its proceeds to bringing clean water to residents of disadvantaged countries. When Starbucks bought Ethos for $8 million in 2005, making it a full subsidiary, Thum stayed on as a Starbucks vice president for three years.
His next major effort was inspired by the violence he saw in Africa while working with Ethos, which led him to found his new company, Fonderie 47—like the AK-47—to help reduce the epidemic of assault rifles there.
“Basically, doing something about the problem of guns is much more complicated than, say, attempting solutions for lack of food, shelter or immunization,” Thum says. “With guns, the psychology is different. The conclusion I reached was, you have to destroy the object and turn it into something beautiful and inspiring. I wanted Fonderie 47 to be about making something wearable and personal—transforming the world’s most lethal industrial product into something rare and handmade.”
To achieve this goal, Thum reached out to renowned jewelry designers like James de Givenchy and Philip Crangi, of Giles & Brother—winner of the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s 2008 Swarovski Award for Accessories.
“I wanted to work with talented and successful designers I admired, who are leaders in this industry and who are doing this because they really believe in it,” Thum says. “I began such a great conversation and relationship with Philip and his sister and partner, Courtney.”
“Working with Peter is incredible,” Courtney Crangi says. “He’s on the ground, in the trenches, working seven days a week going from city to city around the globe, getting people involved. He’s trying to connect with communities to build a foundation. It’s really inspiring.”
After the Crangi siblings’ successful experience with Fonderie 47, they created the kickoff collection for Thum’s latest world-changing endeavor, Liberty United.
“Last year, my wife [Mad Men actress Cara Buono] suggested we take the kind of work we do in Africa and bring it home,” Thum says. “We’ve destroyed more than 32,000 assault rifles in the Congo and Burundi regions, and now she wanted me to do the same thing in the U.S. I agreed.”
To launch Liberty United, Thum made agreements with city and law enforcement officials and community leaders in cities like Syracuse, N.Y., and Philadelphia, to acquire materials from guns reclaimed as criminal evidence or acquired through buyback amnesty programs, then refashion them into highly wearable trinkets.
“We work with the cities as a hybrid business, collaborating with them to create value and jobs to help solve these problems,” Thum says. “It empowers those citizens to do something on their own.”
Liberty United is already making waves with influencers: A recent launch party held in Manhattan—and hosted by actor Mark Ruffalo—attracted the likes of Parker Posey, Lauren Bush Lauren and J.Crew’s Jenna Lyons. For Liberty United’s initial pieces, Philip Crangi created a variation on his classic railroad spike bracelet, a symbol he calls “a true American icon.”
“It suggests industry and unity, bringing together the East and the West through the railroads,” Crangi says. “After the tragedy at Sandy Hook, we wanted to do something about reducing American gun violence, and the spike has nothing to do with gun imagery. What we’re doing has to be about transforming guns into gorgeous jewelry instead.”
Though Liberty United has a star-studded cast of supporters and patrons, Thum’s product lines run the gamut of price points. Spike bracelets start at $95, while Fonderie 47’s new ultraluxury Inversion Principle timepiece—produced in a limited edition of 20, utilizing a wholly new Swiss movement with a three-minute tourbillon—retails for $350,000. According to Thum, it’s an attempt to reach different hearts and minds across generations and economic strata.
“Twelve years ago we started Ethos Water,” Thum says. “Since then, Toms Shoes has launched, donating shoes to impoverished children; Warby Parker donates glasses to those in need; and Lauren Bush helped found Feed Projects, selling accessories to aid the United Nations World Food Program.
The idea behind Ethos, Fonderie 47 and Liberty United is the same: It’s about setting a way for people to change their situation. It’s just begun.”