Ten years ago, Lethbridge resident Steve Christensen decided to pursue his interest of watchmaking.
He began his company Novo Watch by sending designs to a manufacturer in China, but later decided to start making them himself.
“If other humans have done it, I’m sure I can do it too,” Christensen said.
The first watch he ever made is one that he wears himself, and was built using old Lethbridge mine tracks made in the 1880s.
Since then, he has continued to look for ways to repurpose historic material for use in his mechanical watches.
“What we try to do is we find great stories that have meaning, that have purpose, and we infuse those stories into the watch,” he explained.
“It becomes something way more than a product. There’s an actual emotional connection to that piece.”
For his most recent venture, Christensen is using a a piece of Lethbridge’s downtown history: streetcar tracks.
“The Lethbridge streetcar system ran from 1912 to 1947, and it was the beginning of public transportation in Lethbridge,” said Belinda Crowson, the president of the Lethbridge Historical Society.
The introduction of gasoline-powered busses to the transit system in 1939 was the catalyst for the demise of streetcars in Lethbridge.
Following some delays due to WWII, work to get rid of the tracks began.
“After the streetcars were ended in the 1940s, they decided in some cases to rip the tracks up, but in other cases they decided to save money by simply paving them over,” Crowson said.
One of the locations paved over was on 3rd Avenue downtown, one of the oldest streets in the city.
In late July 2020, reconstruction began on the road to revitalize the downtown and provide infrastructure improvements–meaning the tracks were uncovered a short time into the project.
Naturally, Christensen jumped on the opportunity to get his hands on the historic metal.
“We were just lucky enough that one of my friends said, ‘Hey, I have somebody who can probably get you some pieces of that track,’” Christensen said.
And so the “Streetcar 1912” was born — a 10-piece collection of watches, worth about $1,600 each, with the face of the watch taken right from the track that hid underground for several decades.
“We literally cut out the exterior of either the bottom or the side of the rail, and then we get this amazing character,” Christensen explained. “Every single one is different.”
Christensen makes the watches out of his home, and partners with other local businesses for the creation of the boxes, leather straps, and other accoutrements.
“We get to work with all these artisans, put all these pieces together, and by the end we have this handmade watch done right here in Lethbridge.”
But Christensen’s repertoire isn’t limited to train tracks — he has also done custom orders for professional athletes using parts of their equipment, as well as employees of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and families of WWII veterans using old mementos.
“Somebody could have a piece of plastic, piece of metal, piece of leather anything that’s meaningful — that maybe you don’t have any need to put in your house and create more junk, but has meaning,” he said. “We’ll find a really cool way to put that into something you can hold onto forever and pass along to future generations.”
He says he looks forward to expanding his custom orders in the future, and doesn’t see himself getting bored of this time-consuming hobby anytime soon.
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