A SEA CHANGE

SHE WENT TO HOL­LY­WOOD TO WORK IN MAKEUP, BUT CAME BACK TO SYD­NEY AS A JEW­ELLER. WORK­ING WITHOUT DRAW­INGS, STRAIGHT FROM THE MA­TE­RI­ALS, MELISSA HAR­RIS CRAFTS ORIG­I­NAL AND NAT­U­RAL-LOOK­ING BEAUTIES.

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - NEW WATCHES - STORY MI­LANDA ROUT PHO­TOG­RA­PHY NIC WALKER

Work­ing as a make-up artist in Hol­ly­wood is not con­sid­ered your typ­i­cal path for any­one want­ing to be­come a jew­eller. But then again, where else do you have ac­tors and ac­tresses – all po­ten­tial cus­tomers – sit­ting in front of you for hours at a time? “I had an in­stantly fa­mous clien­tele,” jew­eller Melissa Har­ris tells WISH of her un­usual start in the in­dus­try. “I would have ac­tors who would say, ‘I want that [the piece that I was wear­ing], where can I get it?’ and I would say ‘Buy it off me!’”

The now-Syd­neysider left Aus­tralia for Los An­ge­les at just 20 years old de­ter­mined to get into the film in­dus­try as a make-up artist. “I made jew­ellery as a hobby be­cause you don’t tra­di­tion­ally work full-time,” she says of her 16 years in LA in the 1980s and 90s. “You are in and out of work as a free­lancer in film and tele­vi­sion so I would do it in my down time. I had al­ways made things with my hands ever since I was lit­tle.” Har­ris started mak­ing pieces with any ma­te­ri­als she could find, from bone to cop­per to leather to shell. She de­scribes her jew­ellery as or­ganic; she still cre­ates from in­stinct.

“I had a feel­ing for things that are free-form, that are based on na­ture,” Har­ris says of her work. “I tilted to­wards flow­ers, art, trees.” She then un­der­took some more for­mal jew­ellery train­ing and started sell­ing her work be­yond her make-up chair and into key bou­tiques in LA. Soon enough Tim Rob­bins was com­ing in re­peat­edly to buy be­spoke pieces for his then part­ner, ac­tress Su­san Saran­don. Cue more celebrity clients. Then the Los An­ge­les Times in­cluded Har­ris in a piece about up­com­ing jewellers and “that was that”: her tran­si­tion from makeup artist to jew­eller was com­plete.

Har­ris de­cided to re­turn home to Aus­tralia – LA had lost its key at­trac­tion given she no longer needed to work in the film in­dus­try. “So rather than move to New York, which was my ini­tial thought, I moved back home for a while to spend some time with my fam­ily,” she says. “That turned into for­ever after I mar­ried my hus­band.” Har­ris set up her first bou­tique on Crown Street in Surry Hills (far less hip in 1996), then she moved to the Strand Ar­cade in the Syd­ney’s CBD and then on to Dou­ble Bay, where she has been for 18 years.

Har­ris now spe­cialises in coloured gem­stones and a lot of her work is be­spoke pieces. “We don’t use bone or cop­per any more,” she says, laugh­ing. “We are more di­a­monds and gold and plat­inum. We still have fairly or­ganic roots, if you will – that is our go-to style. We are still a bit left of cen­tre; we don’t do what ev­ery­one else is do­ing out there. We are in­flu­enced by na­ture a lot, do stuff that is a bit more de­tailed. It is not just a stone plonked in a white gold ring.”

Un­like many other jewellers, Har­ris doesn’t draw first or do ren­der­ings; she in­stead jumps straight into mak­ing things and ex­per­i­ment­ing with the raw ma­te­ri­als. For her lat­est col­lec­tion, called Shal­lows and the Deep, which is in­spired by the sea, she started work­ing with pearls for the first time. “I have not worked with a lot of pearls in the past as it has al­ways struck me as a bit nanna,” she tells WISH. “But I have be­come aware lately that there is not a lot around that is in­ter­est­ing [in this area] so it is nice to ex­plore some­thing that has not been done a lot.”

And pearls of course fit per­fectly with her ocean theme. “Tidal pools were an ob­ses­sion of mine as a kid,” she says. “So Shal­lows and the Deep refers to what you might find right there, like blue­bot­tles or what is in the rock­pools to the an­i­mals that ex­ist deep un­der­wa­ter in the Mar­i­ana Trench that never see the light of the day. They are the most mag­i­cal, un­be­liev­able crea­tures.”

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