We Needed This: Baleen Makes Blessedly Affordable Jewelry

This is the opposite of sticker shock.

By Zoe Sayler June 29, 2022

The products listed here were independently selected by a member of the editorial staff. Should you choose to purchase a product through a link on this page, we may receive an affiliate commission.

Powder-coated hoops bring a pop of color to a simple silhouette.

Inflation seems to have infiltrated just about every item on our budget, from gas to groceries to gifts. Sticker shock is the new norm. But when’s the last time you were surprised by how little something cost?

Enter: Baleen, a company making sustainable, fashionable jewelry by hand right here in Seattle. Not a single item costs more than $75.

It’s a business tenet so central to the company that the Ballard shop’s front window reads “Affordable”—typically not a word that comes to mind when you think of jewelry, let alone jewelry that’s ethically and locally made with an eye toward design trends. Pieces like that "just always came with a high price tag,” says cofounder Leah Lawrence. “We felt like that could be remedied.” 

When she teamed up with partner Billy Bartels to launch a women’s jewelry line in 2013, it was with the goal of producing “the opposite effect” to sticker shock. They wanted customers to be pleasantly surprised by what they could afford. 

Heidi, a member of Baleen's production team, works behind the scenes.

“Essentially, it's a lot of being really creative with sourcing,” Lawrence says. They don’t use any solid gold; all of the metals they do use, from gold-filled to sterling silver, are recycled. If they come up with a design that takes too many steps to put together or that uses too many expensive materials, they decide "this piece, as much as we love it, isn't going to be part of the line.”

The resulting collection is, for the most part, unsurprisingly minimalist, making Baleen a go-to for simple, high-quality studs, classic layering chains, and other wear-everyday-with-everything pieces. 

Willow Necklace, Baleen Local


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But trend-seekers should keep apprised of Baleen’s seasonal releases, too. “We love having playful editorial pieces that are a little more unexpected,” Lawrence says. Take the bright and graphic cellulose acetate Bloomy hoops ($64), just dropped this week as part of Baleen’s summer collection, or Lawrence’s favorite powder-coated dipped Leen hoops ($52), available in an array of fresh colors.

Seeing Baleen pieces out in public, on friends and strangers, keeps the team perennially excited about their work. “It's like, we know how much was put into that earring or necklace, and all the little conversations we had about it that led to it being made," Lawrence says. "It's very rewarding."

The average cost of a Baleen necklace: around $50. The cost of a beautiful piece of jewelry whose designers still thrill to see you wear it around town: priceless. 

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