Aether Diamonds: Are These Ethical, Carbon-Negative Diamonds Real?
Aether Diamonds is an innovative company that crafts diamonds using carbon extracted from the air. Each carat removes 20 metric tons of emissions from the atmosphere. Learn more about the startup addressing the ethical issues faced by the mined diamond industry.
Anna Ng Updated March 15th, 2022
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What are Aether Diamonds?
Aether is addressing two problems, the carbon footprint of diamond mining and the ethical issues of sourcing conflict minerals. Diamonds are a $27 billion industry, with half of the global demand coming from the United States. Yet most diamonds bought in the U.S. are produced in ways harmful to the environment.
Named one of the most innovative companies in 2022 by Fast Company, Aether is a startup making diamonds from CO2 extracted from the atmosphere. Unlike traditional lab-grown diamonds, which use fossil fuels extracted from the Earth, Aether’s diamonds come from the air, not from the ground.
The first Aether diamonds started shipping in mid-2021. The company sells both loose diamonds and jewelry on its website. The prices are closer to mined diamonds than lab-grown diamonds, which are generally 20-30% cheaper. The premium over other lab-grown diamonds is due to the extra cost of removing CO2 from the air. So far, Aether has no physical stores to supplement its online presence.
According to Aether, each carat removes 20 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere. This is roughly equivalent to the carbon emissions of an average American for the entire year. The company believes that its processes need half the energy use of mined diamonds, with no earth uprooted. (In contrast, mining a diamond disturbs around 100 sq. ft of land per carat.)
Besides, Aether diamonds come in 100% sustainable packaging. Finally, Aether is a certified B Corporation, pledging to balance profits and purpose.
Aether vs. traditional lab-grown diamonds
Unlike Aether, traditional lab-grown diamonds can’t claim that they are removing carbon from the air. In fact, there is some skepticism about their sustainability credentials. In 2019, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent out warnings to several jewelry brands, accusing them of misleading the public over sustainability claims. Some labs are using methane, a potent greenhouse gas, to extract carbon. This is in addition to running energy-intensive facilities that may be powered by fossil fuels.
The issues with diamond mining
The top diamond producers are Russia, currently under sanctions due to the Ukraine war, and Botswana. Since most mined diamonds sold in the U.S. have ties to problematic regimes, it is great to see lab-grown diamonds that are 100% conflict-free.
Last but not least, the world may soon have no alternative to lab-grown diamonds, whether from Aether or its competitors. Diamond mining has hit its peak several years ago and may only have 30 or so years left.
How are Aether Diamonds made?
Aether’s process employs direct air capture, a technology to extract carbon dioxide from the air. Aether doesn’t capture carbon itself. Instead, the startup partners with Climeworks, a Swiss company that specializes in direct air capture. (You can read more about Climeworks here.)
Climeworks installs giant fans that trap and remove carbon from the atmosphere. They then sell the captured carbon to customers like Aether or fizzy beverage manufacturers or store it underground.
Captured CO2 is turned into hydrocarbon feedstock used to grow diamonds in a chemical vapor deposition reactor. Reactors are powered with 100% clean energy. Diamond crystals grow over several weeks; once formed, they are cut, polished, and set just like regular diamonds. The process basically duplicates the conditions under which the diamonds form under the surface of the Earth.
Although Aether sells loose diamonds too, their jewelry collection is designed by Jenna Housby, who previously worked at Theo Fennell, Stephen Webster, and Pandora.
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Are Aether Diamonds real?
Lab-grown diamonds, including Aether Diamonds, are real because they have the same genetic makeup as mined diamonds. Lab-created diamonds are not cubic zirconias. They consist of the same carbon atoms as mined diamonds.
The only thing that makes lab-grown diamonds different from mined diamonds is their origin. However, experts can tell lab-grown and mined diamonds apart using special equipment. In contrast, an expert can see the difference between a real diamond and cubic zirconia just by looking at the two stones.
Aether has promised that each diamond will be in the top 2% quality category globally. Their diamonds are tested by the International Gemological Institute.
Still, some consumers remain skeptical, questioning how “real” lab-grown diamonds are and whether they can retain their value over the years.
Where are Aether Diamonds made?
Aether diamonds use the CO2 captured by Climeworks at a carbon capture facility in Switzerland. Diamonds grow in a lab in the U.S. for several weeks. Once grown, they travel to India to be cut and polished, then back to New York for sale. The company uses carbon offsets to reduce emissions from all the plane travel.
Who founded Aether Diamonds?
Aether was founded in 2018 by Ryan Shearman, a mechanical engineer, and Daniel Wojno, previously at Pandora and David Yurman. Fittingly, the company is headquartered in New York’s Diamond District.
Aether Diamonds Stock: Who owns Aether Diamonds?
Aether is not publicly traded. The company has raised $21 million in funding from investors, including Helena, which invests in companies addressing societal problems, TRIREC, Sound Ventures, Khosla Ventures, and Social Impact Capital. At this point, it’s too early to tell when and if the company will IPO.
🔔 Learn more about investing in lab-grown diamonds.