ANU art student Jonathon Zalakos made Genesis Owusu's grill featured on Smiling With No Teeth album cover

ANU student Jonathon Zalakos made the grill worn by hip hop artist Genesis Owusu (inset). Pictures: Tracey Nearmy, Supplied
ANU student Jonathon Zalakos made the grill worn by hip hop artist Genesis Owusu (inset). Pictures: Tracey Nearmy, Supplied

What started as a throwaway project for Canberra's Jonathon Zalakos turned out to be one of the defining features of Genesis Owusu's debut album cover.

Zalakos is the jewellery maker behind Canberra's Owusu's iconic gold grill for his teeth.

Of course, the jewellery maker, who is finishing his honours degree at the Australian National University, didn't expect the grill to become so high profile.

The cover of Genesis Owusu's Smiling With No Teeth. Picture: Supplied

The cover of Genesis Owusu's Smiling With No Teeth. Picture: Supplied

For Zalakos, it was always meant to just be a learning experience - a chance to push his skills and video it for his YouTube channel. There his videos have racked up millions of views.

"I had wanted to make a grill for someone for a while and I was just quite passively looking for a model that might appear in a video about it," he said.

"It was when I was going to Genesis Owusu's show - I was just going there for a bit of fun - that the thought crossed my mind that he'd be perfect for the job. So I reached out.

"I was just treating it like a bit of a throwaway project and I thought I might contribute a bit to the rap scene in Canberra at the same time. But then the video totally blew up.

"And congratulations to Genesis Owusu for that. I'm just riding on his coattails."

While Zalakos has been making jewellery since he was a teenager - aside from a few trial runs on his own teeth - this was the first time the designer had attempted a grill.

Not only did it take longer than he expected it to - with the project taking three to four months, start to finish - but Zalakos was effectively going into the project blind.

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"There was no information anywhere online. You'd have a snippet or something of the behind the scenes at a jewellers, but when I reached out to people about it, I found that it was a very closely guarded secret," he said.

Genesis Owusu with his ARIA awards, wearing the grill from Jonathon Zalakos. Picture: Supplied

Genesis Owusu with his ARIA awards, wearing the grill from Jonathon Zalakos. Picture: Supplied

"So I stumbled into that process. Nobody else had been using the vacuum forming process that I used to make the grills. Everyone else goes with wax. So it was a new process that I just had to come up with."

But while the process was a lot of trial and error, the result has seen the jewellery designer inundated with commission requests. He is even making a grill for a Canberra hip hop artist - "that one is still a little bit under wraps".

While he mainly does commissions at the moment - aside from a gold Cuban chain that he sells from his website - the designer is hoping to branch out with a small production line next year.

Zalakos also has a solo exhibition at ANCA in Dickson scheduled for next month which he is producing work for.

ANU jewellery and design student Jonathon Zalakos at the ANU School of Art and Design. Picture: Tracey Nearmy/ANU

ANU jewellery and design student Jonathon Zalakos at the ANU School of Art and Design. Picture: Tracey Nearmy/ANU

"That's just painting a picture of jewellery as some sort of malevolent spectre that has been pulling the strings of humanity over generations and generations," he said.

"The work itself is classical pieces of jewellery that have a twist that makes them seem alive, whether they're speaking to you or looking at you, or has been cut open to reveal the internal anatomy.

"But I went into jewellery early - I've been focused on it for a long time now. I've always seen it as just the richest form that you can make. There are very few crafts that have as dense details and fine levels of finish and finesse."

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This story The Canberra jeweller behind Genesis Owusu's smile first appeared on The Canberra Times.