In conversation withĀzlee
When Baylee Ann Zwart took a career break to work with a non-profit in Guatemala, she didn't realize that the move would send her on a whole new career path. Fascinated by the art of transforming raw materials into wearable art, she swapped fashion for jewelry, and eight years later, helms a successful responsible jewelry brand in Santa Monica with a focus on timeless gold.
Just as the landscape inspired her designs, which blend elements of the Ancient World with 20th-century European Art Deco, so Guatemala also sparked an engagement with sustainability that formed the foundation of her business. Baylee keeps Azlee's footprint to a minimum through careful stone sourcing, local manufacturing, using recycled gold, and prioritizing vintage and pre-loved stones. With a special commitment to marine conservation, Azlee was one of the first jewelry brands in the world to use ocean diamonds, harvested by hand from the sea bed with little discernible environmental impact.
She told us more about what goes into her sustainable jewelry, opened up about her design inspirations and revealed which two custom coins she wears every day.
Your jewelry has a timeless quality. To which historical period are you most drawn?
I have always been drawn to the Art Deco period for its harsh lines, play on shapes, and understated glamor. And also ancient eras, especially Ancient Greece, because of its deep mythology and taste for indulgence.
Azlee blends old-world glamor with contemporary appeal. Who do you have in mind while you are designing?
I think of people who have created their own style, who aren't chameleons with the trends, but who know how to stay true to themselves and what they find aesthetically pleasing or empowering when they wear it. I think of those who appreciate rich meanings and historical symbolism.
Tell me about the ocean diamonds you use and your commitment to sustainability.
I began working with ocean diamonds in 2021. Ocean diamonds felt like the perfect extension to what we have always focused on, which is rare gemstones. I had never heard of them, and to my knowledge no other designers were working with these types of diamonds — instantly I found them to be fascinating. I wanted to introduce ocean diamonds into our collection and custom work.
We work with a small operation that hires local scuba divers in Namibia to dive for the rough diamonds that flow naturally over hundreds of thousands of years from the mountains, through the rivers, and into the ocean. There’s no mining required and no machinery, so there is little to no impact on the local environment when sourcing these diamonds, which is unheard of. It also allows for a completely transparent supply chain, and each diamond comes with a certificate of exactly where that stone was found. The cutting is also done locally.
Since every piece we've ever sold has benefited ocean-related causes it felt like a fully natural partnership. We created a special ocean diamond capsule collection featuring 100% recycled gold, ocean diamonds, made in Los Angeles.
“ I have always been drawn to the Art Deco period for its harsh lines, play on shapes, and understated glamor. “
Which is your favorite material or stone to work with?
Unusually cut gemstones. I search the world to find the rarest, best-quality precious gemstones and diamonds in the most atypical shapes. Most cutters don't know how or don't want to cut precious stones into unusual shapes — it's incredibly rare to come across these stones, especially in high color/clarity. I really enjoy searching for these stones. It is very much a passion of mine.
Which are your own favorite pieces of jewelry to wear?
I wear my gold bar necklace every day. I love how it goes with everything, and reflects the light so beautifully. I wear my shield diamond engagement ring, featuring a 2+ carat shield diamond that took me years to find. I wear a custom fingerprint coin that features my husband's ring finger print and the Zodiac large coin which I had engraved with the date I moved to Guatemala and started AZLEE. To me it represents how the stars aligned to lead me to founding AZLEE.