WORDS BY JOSEPH FURNESS
Storytelling is at the essence of jewelry; hence, it’s crucial to know a thing or two about the designers you invest in. One man who has a fascinating tale to tell is Matthew Harris, founder of jewelry brand Mateo.
Having moved from Jamaica to New York City when he was just 16, the self-taught designer is manifestly adaptable, multilayered and down-to-earth. He’s also clear in his artistic vision, which is why his fine and demi-fine jewelry – realized in 14k gold, showcasing pearls, diamonds and precious stones – translates seamlessly from sketch to finished piece.
Below, Harris shares exactly what goes into creating Mateo’s contemporary jewelry collections, plus some inspiring life anecdotes along the way.
How does your hometown of NYC inspire your jewelry designs?
New York City is a big melting pot, so it's (almost) impossible to feel uninspired. One could be sitting on the A train and discover inspiration in a stylish young lady, brilliantly clad in unique gear. That’s the thing about NYC: there are true individuals anywhere and everywhere. I am also often inspired by modern/contemporary art – fortunately, New York has a plethora of museums to choose from.
Where else do you find inspiration?
Jamaica is a huge source of inspiration for me, but not in the cliché way one would think. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t make beach jewelry or shell earrings, but what I do make is jewelry with a ‘No problem, Mon!’ vibe. It's not complicated; it's unpretentious; it’s inclusive; it's easy to wear. Plus, you may notice that the Jamaican colors feature subtly in my collections: yellow gold, vibrant malachite (green) and black onyx.
Your mother was a seamstress in Jamaica, did you grow up surrounded by fashion?
I grew up with fashion in my blood. As far back as I can remember, my mom wouldn’t leave the house without seeking my approval on her attire.
How would you describe your jewelry brand, Mateo, in three words?
Timeless, modern, personal.
Talk us through your jewelry making process?
Each piece of jewelry ultimately starts with a sketch. I literally keep a sketch pad next to my bed as moments of clarity usually come before I sleep and first thing in the morning. I then send my sketch over to the production team where a digital drawing (a CAD) is created. The CAD ensures all dimensions are precise and accurate before we construct a wax model. Subsequently, the jewelry is produced using precious metals.
What prompted your shift in focus from men's to women's jewelry?
I founded Mateo when I started making jewelry for myself, it came naturally to me because there was nothing already out there that I related to, so I made my own. However, a women’s collection was always inevitable, since I grew up living with my mother and my five sisters. I always knew it would be a challenge because I’m a man, so I'll never truly be able to comprehend a woman’s wants and needs. But, I must say that ever since I decided to create women’s jewelry, I’ve learnt so much. Every day I learn more and more, which is a process I adore.
Who is the Mateo woman?
The Mateo woman is one who’s independent, intelligent and a true individual.
In your opinion, what’s the one piece of jewelry that every woman should own?
I think every woman should have a good pair of hoops; you can never go wrong with hoops! They look good with everything, whether your hair is up or down.
Talk to us about your A-list following?
I adore Zendaya, she’s genuinely one of the sweetest human beings and has always been so supportive. Other amazing women who’ve sported my designs are Rihanna, Cynthia Erivo, Andra Day, Kate Bosworth, Taylor Swift and Michelle Obama.
What jewelry trends do you expect to dominate this decade?
Not sure if this is a trend, but I truly believe personal jewelry will dominate the decade. I think it’s essential that jewelry has meaning to the wearer: they should hold a deep connection with each piece. Our Secret Initial collection has been a hit for years now – our customers can’t get enough of it.
Finally, tell us one thing about yourself that might surprise readers.
I'm a phenomenal cook.