Celebrating Culture Through Jewellery – An interview with Thomas Coen Bonson

Thomas Coen Bonson, a proud Jawoyn and Kala Lagaw Ya man is a visionary jeweller with a deep passion for showcasing the stories, traditions, and…

Thomas Coen Bonson, a proud Jawoyn and Kala Lagaw Ya man is a visionary jeweller with a deep passion for showcasing the stories, traditions, and beauty of his people and culture. In this interview, we delve into Coen’s journey as a jeweller, his inspirations and aspirations for the Australian jewellery industry. His Coen Collection captures the essence of his heritage and serves as a bridge to foster understanding and appreciation for Indigenous cultures among diverse communities. 

“[My people’s story] means everything to me. It is my life’s passion, my dream. First Nations culture is so rich with a strong connection to family, our land and its people. My intention with the Coen Collection is to create beautiful pieces inspired by personal and deep meaningful stories of my culture and its people,” Thomas explains. 

Thomas’ interest in jewellery was sparked during his childhood through his grandmother’s collection. Two pieces, in particular, left a lasting impression on him. “There are two pieces that I vividly remember from my grandmother’s jewellery collection. The first was a little gold nugget that she wore as a pendant. She was so proud of it because she won it at bingo! The other was an emerald tower ring. At the time I didn’t know it may have been of the poorest quality and the lowest carat of gold but its value was priceless because of the sentiment and how much it mattered to her,” he says. During NAIDOC Week, Thomas plans to unveil special pieces inspired by his grandmother, the land, and ancestral stories — further intertwining his personal history with the rich tapestry of Indigenous culture.

The decision to enter the bespoke jewellery market was driven by Coen’s growing passion for high-end and custom-made jewellery as he gained experience in the industry. With a long-held dream to transform Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture into wearable art, Coen saw an opportunity to fill a gap in the market. The scarcity of bespoke First Nations Jewellers and high-end Indigenous jewellery businesses motivated him to become a pioneer and advocate for change.

Coen’s favourite aspect of the bespoke handcrafting process lies in the personal connections he establishes with his clients. He finds joy in meeting people, hearing their stories, and collaborating with them to bring their unique visions to life. “I love meeting people and hearing their stories. My favourite part is when clients commission me and use my creative direction to create their own custom bespoke pieces of jewellery. I also really enjoy being lost in the deep work — the engineering part of the hand-making process which requires absolute precision,” he says. 

The bespoke process, with its emphasis on personalisation and meaningful storytelling, plays a vital role in creating strong consumer relationships, according to Thomas. Through this process, clients share their personal stories and inspirations, establishing a deep level of trust and connection between Thomas and his customers. This connection becomes the foundation for building lasting relationships based on mutual understanding and shared vision. 

He recognises the profound significance of jewellery as a personal expression. When a design not only fulfils the client’s desires but also reflects their individual identity, the resulting piece becomes imbued with even greater meaning. Thomas frequently witnesses clients returning for more jewellery or referring others to his work, a testament to the enduring impact of the bespoke experience.

In his shop, Thomas Coen offers an Aboriginal Flag ring that serves as a symbol of support and a catalyst for conversations. When asked about whether he intends to develop an Indigenous-specific collection or have his pieces be worn by all, he emphasises the inclusive nature of the Coen Collection. “The Coen Collection is inspired by my heritage and is to be inclusive for all people and cultures. I was raised in a culture that believes sharing information and love is the way to move forward. Having more understanding of the Indigenous culture within the wider communities will only help our mission even more. Awareness is essential for proper representation,” he says.

When envisioning the future of the Australian jewellery industry, Thomas Coen highlights the need for increased opportunities for First Nations jewellers. As the visionary behind Thomas Coen Jewellery, he aspires to create a platform where First Nations artists and apprentices can flourish and express their creativity through jewellery. He is passionate about breaking down existing barriers that limit the participation of young First Nations individuals in the industry. By providing them with meaningful opportunities, he aims to empower the future generation, ensuring their voices and talents are celebrated and nurtured. Thomas’ vision for the industry fosters diversity, inclusivity, and equitable representation, enriching the Australian jewellery landscape with the vibrant perspectives and artistic expressions of First Nations communities.

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