A year ago I thought NOVO should broaden its expertise and push towards producing local, hometown crafted watches out of Alberta, Canada. The idea was exciting but also comprised a completely different set of challenges than NOVO was used to after 5 years of manufacturing overseas. We chipped away at local manufacturing processes and regional materials as well as history. Learning about calibrating cnc machines and steel forging became a standard part of the workday and visits to the leatherworker became a happy addition to our routine. In September, backed by the many individuals it took to create such an unconventional ware, we proudly released our first handmade watch.
The word NOVO comes from the Russian language and is the neuter form of the word ‘new’. I lived in Russia for a couple of years in my early 20’s and spent a majority of my time in and around Novosibirsk (translation: New Siberia) so the word has special meaning to me. Not only that, but originally NOVO’s goal was to approach the watch world differently. We launched our products with the idea that we’d invent new ways of looking at and telling time; thinking outside 12 numbers and 2 hands. We got some good recognition for our unique designs, won some awards from companies like Thrillist, and gained a loyal following.
As time went on, the minimalist movement exploded. I was intrigued and just as beguiled by simple beauty as everyone else it seemed. So my designs departed from our signature ‘outside the box’ aesthetic and became simpler and more elemental in their appearance. It was a new design challenge for me and our site continues to offer these elegant and rather classic timepieces.
However, in keeping with NOVO’s love of all things new and unique I began to gravitate toward the concept of repurposing. Making old things new again. Which for me meant history given new life in the face of a watch. It lead me to rusty old rail yards and antique shops with my wife. To workshops filled with the scent of leather and glue or the heavy smell of heat and flame. I’ve had to rethink sourcing materials. How best to alter them, whether through machine or man. And I spent many hours each day for months at a desk filled with tiny tools and even tinier bits of metal assembling and disassembling the inner workings of a mechanical timepiece. It only made sense that a watch formed of decades old steel track should be coupled with such a time honoured art. This new watch proved a steep but rewarding learning curve and I’m grateful to the artisans who were willing to teach and work with me on all the elements of it along the way.
Our first repurposed product is made from a 133 year old train track found at a local coal mine in my hometown of Lethbridge, Alberta. The track was produced by Dowlais Ironworks in Wales in 1884. It became the backbone of the coal mining industry and was an integral piece of the Canadian Pacific Railway. It was sourced from the Galt No. 8 Mine site, which closed in 1957, and was a catalyst of economic development in aptly named Coalbanks (since changed to Lethbridge), as well as neighbouring towns Coalhurst and Coaldale. Larry Christmas, a previous chairman of the History and Heritage Committee of the Coal Association of Canada said: “The Galt No. 8 Mine site represents one of the most important abandoned coal mines in Canada...” This piece of track was built to withstand the weight and exertion of a steam engine. Now it serves as the sturdy case and dial of our newest and first mechanical watch; hand assembled, finished with hand cut and stitched leather straps and boxed in a locally sourced and crafted barn wood box.
At NOVO we pride ourselves on being creative and enjoy our work exploring, learning and creating. The Coalbanks has been our most exciting and artistically evolved project to date and we will continue to seek out the possibilities repurposing opens up with new items and in new places. It is the perfect way to embrace the company’s name and its original ideals of creating novo or new, unique timepieces. Follow us on Instagram and Youtube to see how the Coalbanks was created each step of the way.
Forging the track to proper shape
Track ready for machining