Diamonds are supposedly a girl’s best friend, but they definitely aren’t the planet’s. From funding bloody wars to poor working conditions to the environmental impact of mining, diamonds have proven to be a controversial gemstone. But there’s a new company in the diamond market growing carbon-negative diamonds made from thin air: Aether.
The Environmental Impact of the Diamond Industry
As movies like Blood Diamond have exposed the link between mined diamonds and war, consumers are choosing lab-grown diamonds.
“The mining companies and the lab-grown diamond companies argue over who is less harmful to the environment. To me, that’s not even an argument that that is worth participating in.
Lab-grown diamonds don’t require massive holes to be cut in the ground, they don’t lead to acid mine runoff…there’s a slew of reasons why lab-grown diamonds are emphatically a step in the right direction,” explains Ryan Shearman, co-founder of Aether.
Even lab-grown diamonds have an environmental impact, though. The carbon needed to produce a diamond usually come from fossil fuels. The predominant source of carbon for a diamond grown in a laboratory is hydrocarbon feedstock.
Founded in 2018 by Shearman and his co-founder, Dan Wojno, Aether has a new take on lab-grown diamonds. Instead of getting carbon from planet-harming sources, they extract CO2 from the atmosphere before growing their diamonds.
In addition, Aether’s lab-grown diamonds avoid the ecological damage to the soil and water supplies commonly associated with mined diamonds. Shearman explains that “the amount of soil that has to come out of the ground to produce a single one-carat diamond [is] enough to fill the average American living room.”
Aether’s process also saves 127 gallons of fresh water needed for each carat of a mined diamond, along with the 143 lbs of carbon emissions per carat.
How Aether is Creating Carbon-Negative Diamonds
Aether is going beyond carbon-neutral. Their diamonds are carbon-negative.
“A carbon-negative product is one that is produced in a manner where all logistics and operations and all emissions related to that are carbon neutral…And then beyond that, your product must sequester carbon from the environment,” says Shearman.
Aether offsets the carbon impact of their packaging, shipping, logistics, business travel, and operations with carbon credits. Those credits, along with their diamond-making process that pulls CO2 from the air, add up to a carbon-negative diamond company.
The carbon-negative label also means that they take pollution out of the atmosphere permanently, not just for a short time.
The process results in “a permanent sequestration of what was previously pollution. When we make diamonds from atmospheric carbon, there’s no way that that carbon is ever going back into the air. And that’s something that we’re really excited about.”
How Aether Assures That Their Carbon-Negative Diamonds Are Positive for Workers
Aether’s carbon-negative diamonds aren’t sold loose right now, which means they have to be set into precious metal. Aether has chosen to focus on gold because of its prevalence in the jewelry industry.
Gold doesn’t glitter when you measure its environmental and social impact, though. The mercury used in gold mining causes causing nervous, digestive, and immune system issues.
That’s why the gold Aether uses is Fairmined Certified. This 3rd-party certification assures that the gold Aether uses is mined in a way that minimizes its environmental impact. Fairmined Certified companies pay miners a fair price. Critically, Fairmined Certified companies do not allow children to mine.
Aether also plans to introduce other environmentally-friendly precious metals into their jewelry lines later in 2021.
What to Look For When Buying a Carbon-Negative Diamond
When you buy a diamond, there are Four Cs to look for: carat, clarity, color, and cut.
- Carat is the weight of the diamond. Sometimes this translates into the physical size of the diamond. Two diamonds of the same carate weight appear to be completely different sizes depending on their cut, though.
- Clarity measures the imperfections of a diamond, which form naturally when a diamond is mined or grown.
- Gemologists measure color on a scale of D-Z. Diamonds in the D-H range are the most popular for bridal jewelry because they are nearly colorless.
- The cut of a diamond is what jewelers have control over. As the International Gemological Institute explains, “The planning, proportions, cutting precision and details of finish determine how brilliant, dispersive and scintillating the diamond will be.”
Aether sets a standard price for each of their jewelry pieces. Their pricing doesn’t fluctuate based on the characteristics of each of their carbon-negative diamonds.
Red Flags To Look For When Buying A Diamond
Buying a diamond can be a daunting task, especially with all of the buzzwords, certifications, and grading scales to consider.
“Ultimately, I would boil it down to making sure you’re doing your own research. Make sure you’re buying from a source that you trust. And this isn’t, you know, something that’s immediately obvious,” says Shearman.
Shearman recommends researching the claims companies are making. Some brands use words like “sustainable” without having any sort of third-party certification to back that up. Looking for relevant certifications and third-party involvement will help you buy a diamond that isn’t of dubious quality or origins.
Not every certification is helpful, though. The Kimberely Process, for example, certifies diamonds as conflict-free. It does keep 98.99% of conflict diamonds from reaching the market, but the 2% that do slip through amount to a massive quantity each year.
“There are stones that would be coming from areas that maybe the average layperson would say ‘no, that’s a conflict diamond.’ But because of the structure and certain definitions in the Kimberley Process, it actually doesn’t pertain to those diamonds.
You end up getting a number of different scenarios in which diamonds are produced in a way that is not ethical, but are considered ethical because they don’t trigger certain certain parts of the Kimberley Process,” says Shearman.
The Kimberely Process also doesn’t take into account the environmental impact of mining.
Lab-Grown, Carbon-Negative Diamonds Are the Future of the Diamond Industry
Nearly 150 million carats of diamonds are sold annually, but 70% of diamond mines are expected to close by 2040.
“We have demand increasing every year, but the global supply from the ground is going to be going down for the foreseeable future. This is a great opportunity for humanity to eventually phase out what would otherwise be called conflict diamonds—diamonds that are associated with human rights abuses,” says Shearman.
Lab-grown diamonds have the exact same composition as mined diamonds. And with Aether’s carbon-negative technology, their impact on the environment is a net positive.