Azure by SZK – Jewellery brand infused with the African, European and Sub-continental influence in contemporary aesthetics
Pakistani Jewellery brand Azure by SZK is not your average brand. With her African, Western European and Sub-continental roots, designer Sana manages to create art pieces with a blend of aesthetics that makes them truly unique, treat to behold and a treasure to possess.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I grew up across the UK, Pakistan, and Nigeria and eventually went to boarding school in Wales when my family moved to Malaysia. I moved back to Pakistan in 2010, after university, and worked in the development sector for many years. Since then I have been back and forth in the UK for further studies and personal developments. I always loved the arts and in 2016. my interest in the jewellery world piqued and therein began my AZURE journey. I recently read that our roles and jobs are not our sole identity, they influence one of many.
Whilst I am a woman, a mother to a little girl, a jewellery designer an entrepreneur, I am a reflection of all my experiences and interests.
You are an academic. You did MPhil from Cambridge. What inspired you to get into fashion.
I always loved the arts and in my early years studied water colour amongst other mediums. As I could not fathom the extent of fine art application at the time, I decided to pursue Development Economics at university level. Given my background of having travelled, I could relate to this field and its practical needs. My release from work would come when I helped my maternal grandmother with her private jewellery exhibitions that she hosted. I found myself sketching designs on paper, on my phone, on chits at all hours. In 2017, I moved back to the UK and resigned from my job. My journey of relearning commenced.
I undertook jewellery courses at Central Saint Martins, I shadowed experts in workshops in London and in Karachi, I connected with jewelers and gemstone specialists in the field, and I would draw, read, and research extensively. The designs came to me naturally, however, it was essential to ground my artform in technique and this is a continuous process of practice and learning. After two years, I launched AZURE in 2019.
It is only when one looks back that you see how the dots connect. I studied art until university and always scored well on the subject and won awards, it came easily. When I was 12, I recall watching a snippet of a movie as a child where a mother who was a designer sketched her designs in bed early on a weekend morning with her daughter sat next to her and I thought how perfect that moment was, little did I envision it would be mine.
I designed a diamond jewellery set in 2010 for my wedding with an established jeweller, which another customer caught eye off and requested to purchase, and it was sold. My experience in the professional world aided my understanding of the business needs and a required work ethic. I was always inspired by the Arts, it was a matter of honing in on the field I was drawn to.
What has been the biggest influence on your journey?
I only discovered the jewellery world because of my grandmother whom I lived with for some years and assisted during her private jewellery exhibitions. Since launching, my biggest influence has always stemmed from the joy of creating and seeing a design idea come into form, it always comes back to this.
You were born and raised in the UK and now reside and run your brand from Pakistan. How has this contrast of cultures influenced your designs.
The experience of different countries and cultures has led to AZURE offering a versatile range of designs. Our Garden of Eden Collection is feminine and floral; our Drops of Jupiter Collection is bold with a molten metal finish; our A Geometric Affair Collection is more minimalist- all tied together with a distinctive use of pearls. There are elements in our pieces that are directly influenced by these cultures: sculptural forms and linear pieces inspired by the West and traditional embossing techniques known as Shabnam. And the use of enamel inspired by the East- designed and crafted in a way that works with all cultures.
Our designs are contemporary and the range is fluid- they work with every ensemble, for every time of day. And anywhere in the world. Our ethos is to celebrate the versatility of the feminine and her multi-dimensional nature.
What challenges have you faced moving from a first world to a third world country and running business from there?
There is a distinct difference in the jewellery space working culture here. This tends to be less formal, maintains limited paperwork, and entails a subjective work ethic with decision making driven by emotions. Streamlining this culture to achieve a more professional working methodology and standardized quality control has been one of the greatest challenges we have focused our efforts on and continue to push forward.
An increasingly difficult challenge that we face is the state of the economy. The crippling currency value, rampant inflation, limited resources (electricity, water) all impact business directly as well as the morale of all those involved in its running. This is amplified in a field where precious metals and finishes gemstones are pegged to an international currency, makes it all the more cost-heavy. These issues are out of business owners’ hands and whilst challenging there are many reasons for continuing to work here, discussed below.
Why did you pick Pakistan as the base of your business instead of UK?
Crafting in Pakistan has been at the core of AZURE’s tenets when being established. There are many reasons as to why AZURE had to be based in Pakistan- it embodies a history and culture rich in its love for jewellery and gemstones. This has existed for centuries and cuts across all socio-economic strata. There is a beauty to be seen in an art-form that is handed down across generations, as there is no formal schooling for jewellery making. I have met some of the most creative and talented craftsmen, artisans who speak to their gemstones in the middle of the night, and a working culture that takes pride only in working with valuable metals and coveted gemstones.
I wanted to tap into this potential and promote working with expert craftsman and lapidiaries in Pakistan- creating artistic contemporary designs, of superior value, for a global audience.
You work with seasonal collections. What is the source of your inspiration and what creative process do you go through?
At AZURE we have a Gold and Sterling Silver line and three main collections- Garden of Eden focused on florals, Drops of Jupiter with a molten metal aesthetic, and A Geometric Affair looking at forms and a more minimalist approach. We create new series’ bi-annually with pieces that fit into to these collections. The themes of these series are often inspired by the environment and become more evolved with every year. In 2022, we launched the re-awakening series, a celebration of re-birth after an unprecedented period of quiet living and isolation.
Our designs were inspired by a bold, statement-oriented aesthetic, vibrant colours, and an avant garde edge that sets it apart. This year, our Equinox series revolves about the purity found in balance bringing forth structural, symmetrical and technically complex pieces. We are increasingly focusing on purposeful creations that are responsive, moving away from seasonal trends and demands, to promote sustainable wearability.
How has been the experience of building up and running a brand for you?
It is like the ebb and flow of a river. There are periods of high creativity and achievement and periods riddled with problem shooting, and so it goes on. A constant learning curve, I underestimated how complex, extensive, and non-stop the aspects of building a brand can be. The beauty of its growth is coupled with the need for more technical back end systems and standardization beyond product design- looking into marketing, finance, operations. As the sole founder and creative director of AZURE, which has seen unprecedented growth post-covid, into its third year in business- the effort and time required on both the design/manufacturing side and the business side has been immense. Whilst we do have teams involved with the various sides of the business, it never slows down, there is always more to be done. The experience is dynamic and ever-evolving.
If you could define your brand in three words, what would they be?
Artistic. Luxurious. Curated.
If you could define your ideal client in three words, what would they be?
Distinctive. Discerning. Self-assured.
What lies ahead of you and what are your future plans for Azure jewelry?
AZURE plans to go bigger internationally expanding its outreach to a wider clientele. We are constantly evolving and looking into expanding our product range. Such as a special fine-jewellery gifting line as well as jeweled embellishments for high-end clothing atelier partnerships.
What was the reason behind picking the name AZURE?
The brand name AZURE stems from the Persian term for an enchanting deep blue colour, the colour of lapis lazuli. A beauty honoured overtime for its richness and depth, reflecting wisdom. Our jewellery line evokes the magical beauty of the ‘azure’ in its unique design construct.
In your opinion, what makes Azure stand out from the rest of the crowd?
- Our artistic designs with a distinct use of pearls, each one is special with a narrative of its own.
- Precious metals and coveted gemstones, valuable jewellery
- Versatile range of designs, there is a piece every individual can relate to, can wear for every occasion, and anywhere in the world
- Promote local skilled artisans and craftsman
- Woman led, independent, niche brand- enables us to stay committed to our essence.
You have strong connection with the African heritage as you spend some of your childhood there. How much time did you spend in Nigeria and how has it impacted your work?
I lived in Nigeria on and off for 5 years, it was my childhood home. And provided for some of my fondest memories. At a young age, one is unconsciously very influenced by their surroundings. And my time in Nigeria left me with a love for rhythmic music and bold structures, patterns and colours. It can be seen in the bold craftsmanship of the metal in our gilded molten pieces. And in our striking pieces with black, white and gold colour combinations.
When one creates, it is more than the simple image of a piece, it’s a feeling, a sound, a memory- and the combination of it all that inspires what a piece must look and feel like. The exposure to different cultures is one of my greatest privileges and has influenced my commitment to a versatile range of jewellery designs.
How does it feel to be a female entrepreneur in a very typically male dominated society where gender roles are much more traditionally defined?
The jewellery sector in particular is significantly male dominated, in an already patriarchal society. The trade of jewellery making is only passed down amongst men. And in some cases, only boys born to sons (not daughters). Complementary skill-sets such as casting, plating, testing, are also only done by men. This is compounded by a work environment which is unfavourable to women. The traditional jewellery shop business owners are also primarily men who work with their sons.
Enter AZURE- a brand that is not a generational jewellery house. AZURE has been built from scratch focusing on one of the most technically complex art-forms in a male-structured industry. My model of work has evolved over the years- market research and contacts developed would provide leads. That could further assist with the various steps and know-hows. It was frustrating at the on-set but with experience. A more established brand base, and streamlined systems the gender aspect is managed, with a long way to go in terms of meaningful inclusion.
Instagram @ azurebyszk