Contemporary jeweller Carl Noonan.
Contemporary jeweller Carl Noonan wants to make jewellery that 'will last a trillion years". Image by HANDOUT/CARL NOONAN
  • arts, culture and entertainment

Tassie jeweller blends molten mess with tech precision

Marion Rae September 30, 2023

Tasmanian high school teacher Carl Noonan is part scientist, part contemporary jewellery designer.

His titanium rings are hand-drawn, transferred to a computer and 3D-printed, plated with molten precious metals and scored with a pattern that reveals the core.

Earlier work was laser-cut using a process called direct metal laser sintering, each one precise and identical, in a “flesh and bones” series of rings that slot together like puzzles. 

However, the innovator found himself wanting to rebel against his own perfectionism and find a way to mimic the quirks and beauty of the natural world.

Just as no two people are the same, the pattern of silver or gold will differ in each recent piece because of the way it is cast, which combines mess with precision, Mr Noonan told AAP.

Just as the Australian Mint relies on computers to come up with new coins, computer-aided design (CAD) models are essential in modern jewellery to design pieces of any shape or material.

“I’m not someone who apologises for using computers to make my art,” he said.

And he is proud of what he calls his “mistakes”. That is, a pile of dozens of rings that have been designed but proved to be beyond the limits of existing technology to build using a 3D printer.

“The only way we’re going to succeed is if we make mistakes,” he said.

“Contemporary jewellery innovates – if you’re not finding a new way of making jewellery then you’re not a contemporary jeweller.

“What you do is you figure out what the material you’re using can do and you use it to do what it can do.” 

He might draw 200 sets of rings on paper, and then “CAD up” a dozen of the designs to turn them into 3D models on a computer.

“I’ll produce about six of those by hand. So I’ll print them out, finish them off, clean them up, and I’m happy with about two,” he said.

The artist cites a contemporary metalsmith, Sydneysider Cinnamon Lee, as a significant influence. She uses digital technology to push the boundaries of metal fabrication in jewellery and lighting design.

“I walked into a gallery in Sydney and saw Cinnamon Lee’s jewellery and it blew my mind,” he said.

The design thinking behind the making of his rings also deliberately joins new and old metals.

This means elements such as tungsten, cobalt, chrome and titanium are used alongside traditional silver, gold and platinum.

“I love titanium … it’s indestructible,” he said.

“I want to hand a piece of jewellery to someone that will last a trillion years.”

But Mr Noonan’s day job is teaching – maths in the morning and art in the afternoon.

His art can be found online and in an exhibition, Precious: excellence in contemporary jewellery, at the Art Gallery at Royal Park in Launceston until Sunday.