Mateo founder Matthew Harris’ journey to Botswana reminds him why designing is so meaningful.
Words by: Sam Broekema
Minimalism can be the hardest design ethos to maintain; there’s nowhere to hide. Fortunately Jamaican born jewelry designer Matthew Harris of Mateo New York isn’t interested in hiding behind anything. Every piece in his fine jewelry collection is intentionally crafted and serves a specific purpose in the wearer’s collection. This refined vision makes a new launch a real cause for celebration. Here, in an Only Natural Diamonds exclusive, the designer reveals his inspiration and powerful backstory.
Only Natural Diamonds:What does luxury mean to you?
Matthew Harris: It’s not always a material. I think luxury depends upon the individual. For me, I’m so simple. I don’t need much [laughs]. Just a little diamond on an anklet and a diamond tennis necklace. But I’m simple in [wearing] unexpected diamonds. Diamonds: you should just have them hanging off your feet because it’s about treating luxury as an everyday item. They shouldn’t be revered or just pulled out of a jewelry box once a year.
OND: What is your first memory of a diamond?
MH: I was probably eight years old. I got a diamond cross. In my family, everyone gets a cross or a tennis bracelet. That’s my first memory of ever having a real piece of jewelry. I was very, very young. In Jamaica, we always say, always have good jewelry, so if something goes wrong, you can take it to the pawn shop. That was [in] my family’s DNA. We have always had jewelry for when something goes wrong [laughs]. It’s so good, I love it.
OND: You were recently in Botswana?
MH: Botswana was amazing. Amazing. It was my first time really going to Africa. I’d been to Morocco before, but it’s not the same. I felt as if I had gone to the Motherland. The moment you land there, you feel this being Black. It felt magical and mystical to me just to be there. And then to see how diamonds have transformed a country in its entirety was insane. You see how De Beers and Botswana as a country have a really beautiful partnership. The infrastructure is amazing. You see the cultural development; you see a beautiful airport. I mean, just incredible. It was mind-blowing.
The jewelry is from the source there. Going to see the mine was, again, mind-blowing, because I’ve been making jewelry for about 12 or 13 years now. And yes, we use a lot of diamonds, but to see it coming from the earth… It was priceless, this experience, to see the process. And to see them modernizing the whole process and making it sustainable was incredible. So I had a blast. And of course, why would you not bring looks?
I don’t take myself too seriously, honestly. That’s the beauty of what I do as well. Jewelry should be fun. The jewelry world should be fun.
I feel my mood changes anytime I put on a piece of jewelry. If I’m feeling down, I need something to lift my spirits. I go to my little trinket box because I have quite a few pieces, and put on a tennis necklace with a T-shirt. And then I feel better. That’s the beauty of jewelry. It has the power to change the mood. I’ve seen a woman put on an earring and she immediately just transforms—even the way she moves her head. You know, that’s the power of jewelry.
OND: What inspired the latest collection?
MH: Botswana was the core inspiration, combined with our aesthetic of simplicity and wearability. On my visit to this most beautiful country, inspiration was truly all around. From the people to the landscape and my God, the cornucopia of natural diamonds. Visiting the DeBeers mine was just breathtaking. I saw the most incredible creatures at the watering hole during my safari excursion. How could one not truly be inspired?
This season in particular, we wanted to really go back to our roots, which is just making great personal fine jewelry. We love to make pieces that people can wear all the time, every day, the piece almost becomes a part of them. This was the goal. And I think we have done that.
OND: Any parting words?
MH: Hmm. I just love making jewelry. I couldn’t do anything else. It’s really, truly my life.