As more and more consumers seek to understand the origins of their goods, our industry has adapted to offer transparency, traceability (when it can)—and options.
Of those options, diamonds from the bottom of the ocean might not have been your first thought. But that’s precisely what Azlee is doing with its latest collection.
Offering gems sourced from the seabeds along the coasts of Namibia and South Africa, Ocean Diamonds—a specialist in marine diamonds that boasts its conscious sourcing where mining is not required—has partnered with Azlee to create jewelry for the last two years.
Azlee designer Baylee Ann Zwart has expanded on her collection of Ocean Diamonds to include a line of engagement rings. Below, JCK talks with Zwart about the collection, the stones, and more.
Can you give us more detail on how these diamonds are sourced? How were they discovered?
Ocean diamonds are a new category of natural diamonds sourced from the oceans of Namibia and South Africa. The very first ocean diamonds were found in the mid-20th century by fishermen who found them scattered in their nets. These diamonds are responsibly sourced and unlike traditional diamonds, there is no mining required. Over billions of years these diamonds have been created by the earth, and have naturally flowed from the mountains, through rivers, to then land in caverns in the ocean. Local divers dive to handpick these beautiful diamonds from the ocean’s floor, leaving no lasting impact on the environment. One of the few traceable methods of garnering diamonds, each diamond comes with a certificate of origin. The diamonds are then cut and polished locally, keeping the supply chain transparent. Azlee is honored to be the first U.S. brand to collaborate with Ocean Diamonds.
How do they differ from traditionally mined diamonds? Are there any noticeable differences in appearance?
Mined diamonds have environmental risks, and even lab-grown diamonds take a large amount of energy to produce. Ocean diamonds cause less ecosystem disruption, which is so important to the values of Azlee as a whole. In regards to appearance, there are no noticeable differences, and the diamonds tend to be very high clarity grades. If they have a lot of inclusions, they tend to break apart when flowing from the mountains into the oceans, and never make it the ocean. Each diamond also comes with a GIA certification.
How does the origin of these diamonds inspire your new collection?
A huge part of Azlee’s values are to support marine conservation and preservation. Through scuba diving and surfing, I have witnessed firsthand humankind’s impact on the marine ecosystem. In a continued effort to foster a more conscious relationship with the planet and craft a better future, a portion of each sale is donated toward an ocean-related cause. Finding this small team of divers to source ocean diamonds and hearing their story and background has made me immensely inspired. I designed the pieces to have movement to them to reflect their ties to the ocean. I envisioned a nuanced form of a wave that would be subtle but honor the concept and origin. That is where the shape of the pieces derived from.
What has been the customer reaction to this offering of diamonds?
Diamonds are already such special and incredible stones, so adding another layer to how they were found and the benefit this type of sourcing has on the environment has definitely intrigued clients. It is also a category of diamonds that most everyone, including the fine jewelry industry, isn’t aware of, so it has been super-special to be the one to introduce this concept to clients.
Have you noticed that more brides and grooms are looking for an alternative to the traditionally mined diamond? Do you also receive requests for colored gemstones in your custom work?
There has definitely been an increase in clients wanting alternative options that feel less traditional, and more personal. We have seen an increase in clients asking for colored stones in their engagement rings. As as brand we stick to precious stones, so we create a lot of emerald rings, and then second to that is rubies and sapphires. We have definitely seen an uptick in requests for sapphires in the last year.
What’s the most unique/unusual item of jewelry (engagement ring or otherwise) you’ve been asked to create?
We specialize in unusual cut diamonds, and we had a client come to us wanting a yellow shield diamond ring. It is difficult to find full-cut shield diamonds in high color and clarities, so to find a cutter who has cut a high-quality yellow diamond into a shield was a lovely challenge. Then we complemented the shield with kite diamonds to create a beautiful, unexpected and balanced piece. [pictured above]
What’s ahead for Azlee in 2023?
We are developing more one-of-a-kind pieces, which I am very excited about. It’s a passion of mine to give clients something no one else has, and have the opportunity to work with really special precious stones and diamonds. The concept of jewelry as art is really where my heart lies, so we are leaning more and more into that. I am also focused on educating myself deeper about sustainability in our industry, so that we can continue to improve our practices, that is top of mind for me as well.
Top: Sea ring I in 18k yellow gold with 0.43 ct. Ocean Diamond, $10,900; Azlee
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