The 21st century has seen the advent of technology that appears in science fiction. We have developed a device that can connect you to anyone around the world with a touch of a button. We have invented autonomous vehicles. And, as it turns out, New York startup company Aether Diamonds is producing precious gems from thin air.
Founded by two engineers from within the jewelry industry, Ryan Shearman and Dan Wojno have developed a process that turns excess CO2 into diamonds. The duo understood the impact of the negative practices that plague the $76 billion industry and committed to finding a change. As many know, the diamond industry was built on the backs of countless egregious labor practices and human rights abuses, and despite measures from the industry to curtail the sale of blood or conflict diamonds, they still slip through the cracks. “To an insane degree, conflict diamonds make it onto the market every day. You can’t catch them all, and the organizations don’t define conflict diamonds appropriately. Human rights abuses just fly under the radar,” says Shearman, Aether’s CEO. Although conflict-free, lab-grown diamonds have been introduced to lessen dependence on conflict diamonds, they still have a substantial toll on the environment.
However, Aether’s business model works to combat both the moral and environmental issues of the diamond industry. Their process is both conflict-free and 100% powered by renewable energy, helping them to achieve a carbon-negative status, making them essentially a carbon sink. Their process includes extracting carbon dioxide from the air. After the CO2 is captured, it is synthesized into a hydrocarbon used to make the diamonds. Finally, the hydrocarbons are put into a powerful reactor that exerts high heat and pressure, turning them into diamonds. Aether’s patent-pending process can churn out a fresh batch of diamonds in four weeks, a remarkable turnover time considering it takes upwards of a billion years to produce one through natural processes.
With a surplus of over 109 billion tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the business has no shortage of resources. However, the industry at large does not share the same enthusiasm for environmental consciousness. “The previous argument was, what harms the planet the least?” Shearman shared, adding “Now we’re flipping that on its head because we aren’t harming the planet at all. Every single diamond we sell makes the world that much better.” Aether’s carbon-neutral process offsets 20 tonnes of carbon dioxide for every carat that is produced. This means that a two-carat diamond would offset an individual’s carbon footprint for the next two and a half years.
The diamonds themselves are of good quality, despite efforts from large diamond companies to discredit the lab-grown product, To ensure that their quality matches industry standards Aether has committed to selling diamonds that are at least H quality color (near colorless category) and VS2 quality clarity (small inclusions). In addition, Aether promises each customer will get, at minimum, their chosen size of diamond, clarity, and color, meaning they could have improvements on the quality of the diamond of choice. Their first collection featured diamond engagement rings, wedding bands, studs, bracelets, necklaces, and more, but quickly sold out. However, their products are back, and still in high demand.
But, their vision for a conflict-free diamond industry that actively fights the climate crisis cannot be done alone. Robert Hagemann, Aether’s Chief Marketing Officer talked about sharing their process with the industry, saying “Our goal is not to become hoarders or be the only company that can ever make diamonds out of air or air pollution.” He goes on to add “Our goal, despite the fact that we do have these [patent] protections in place, is to allow the diamond industry to grow and progress, and we are more than happy to license out that technology and those capabilities to brands who want to follow in our footsteps.”
Aether’s technological advancements in production may have allowed the diamond industry to turn a corner. It is a step forward for both labor and environmental sustainability. However, it remains to be seen whether or not it will become an industry standard. One thing is for sure, Aether is helping fight the climate crisis one beautiful gem at a time.