When buying a diamond, you traditionally want to consider the “four Cs” — carat, color, clarity and cut. Discerning consumers, however, have two more Cs they would like to add to the list: Conscience. And Carbon. But how?
It’s not exactly news that the vast majority of mined diamonds are not ethical. The ways in which they are produced are harmful to the environment and exploit both adults and children in poverty.
Mining diamonds involves clearing land, typically using heavy machinery and explosives, and it creates liquid and solid waste that can pollute and destroy whole ecosystems. Diamonds fuel wars and have been linked to forced labor and torture, while the certifications that exist are unreliable at best.
Are Lab Grown Diamonds the Answer?
In recent years, that lack of traceability has created a wave of lab-grown diamonds, a technology praised for seemingly answering the wildly unethical downsides of diamond mining.
“To coin a product ‘natural’ is a tactic we’ve learned to expect from industries under fire.”
Traditional diamond suppliers, not very surprisingly, saw their business model threatened and used a tactic we’ve learned to expect from industries under fire (i.E. the fur industry): Coining their product “natural” and claiming a lower carbon footprint in comparison to the competitive innovation.
Unfortunately, it seems like they have a point: Even though lab-grown stones cut out the human rights violations and the digging of enormous craters, they still consist of carbon, so labs have to source that raw material somewhere… which brings us to fossil fuels, oil drilling and fracking.
Innovation to the Rescue
Ryan Shearman, a mechanical engineer, had a background in material science in the fine jewelry space already when he started his first venture-backed start-up, which he sold just five years later — and immediately proceeded with Aether. “Before we had our brand,” Shearman tells us, “we really had an idea for the technology.” That was early 2018.
That technology flips the previous argument (“what harms the planet the least?”) on it’s head. To source the carbon needed for making their precious stones, what Aether does is to scrub CO2 from the air using it’s own direct capture technology.
“To source the carbon needed to make their product, Aether scrubs CO2 from the air.”
It is then pushed through a filter and converted into methane, which is the raw hydrocarbon material of the diamond in the making. It’s placed in a reactor, where it will then grow into a stone over the course of three to four weeks.
The result is scientifically identical to a mined diamond.
This proprietary technology is the backbone of Aether and what sets the company apart — from mined diamonds by definition, but from lab-grown diamonds in terms of ecological impact.
Each carat created by Aether removes roughly 20 tons of pollution from the sky, making their product more than ‘just’ carbon-neutral. Aether diamonds are carbon-negative.
Robert Hagemann, Aether’s CMO and in charge of constructing the brand revolving around the company’s technology, puts that into perspective for us:
“The average American has a carbon footprint of 16 metric tons a year. So if you buy a 1 carat diamond from Aether, you are essentially offsetting 1.25 years of your carbon footprint.”
What makes a Diamond Vegan?
And there’s more. Aether Diamonds are vegan, as well, which makes them, according to Robert, “the first vegan diamonds on the planet.”
“When Bob first mentioned the idea of seeking the vegan certification,” Ryan remembers, “I will admit there was a moment of head scratching. You might think that all diamonds are vegan, but once you really understand the ramifications of the supply chains, you quickly understand it is a very serious and ongoing challenge.”
“The world’s first truly vegan diamond.”
Robert, a dedicated vegan and long-term member of WWF and PETA, explains his thought process: “There are some companies offering lab-grown diamonds that claim that they are sustainable, simply because they are using sustainable energy to power their reactors. The problem is that they are still relying on fossil fuels as the source of their carbon. All you need to do is to google ‘oil spill animals’ to know that this as a huge impact on wildlife.”
If you look at the competition, Hagemann claims his company to be “really the only ones that not only do not harm wildlife and eco systems, but also reverse some of the damage. We are really proud to have received the vegan certification by Vegan Action, one of the most trusted certification organizations in North America and throughout the world.”
When Luxury and Sustainability Go Together
But still, bringing together luxury and sustainability, splendor and conscious consumerism — that likely still sounds like a contradiction to many. Can we really overcome the emotional value precious stones have been charged with — and do we really need to?
“Jewelry has been worn for millennia, and diamonds have been the gemstone of choice for about 400 years,” Ryan explains. “At the end of the day, human beings are vain animals, but if we can understand that in a deep manner and use that to have a positive impact, that’s an overall positive.”
“Beauty acts as the validating factor for why people want to get behind the movement.”
With the right product, “you don’t have to make tradeoffs,” Robert adds. “That is what we provide. Sometimes beauty acts as the validating factor for why people want to get behind the movement, so it’s critical for us and for what we’re trying to achieve with the brand.”
And “it’s already happening,” Ryan states. “Brands like Tesla are really a great leading indicator. Sustainability, especially here in the United States, has become a mark of luxury, a way of flexing to your friends. I know company owners who earn millions of dollars, who could drive every type of car, but they’re all driving Teslas.”
The Future is a Luxury
All in all, what Aether is offering might be more than a shiny object. Maybe what’s really on display here is the blueprint of an alternative narrative of our collective future.
A tech-driven, ethically motivated concept, created to trigger change from within a system that’s thoroughly broken — but maybe not beyond repair.
Here’s a company providing an exemplary solution to some of the most pressing societal pains in the face of climate change:
- How can we act responsibly without having to give up who we are?
- How can we hold on to our identity, formed in a thoroughly capitalist society that has been shaped by all-out consumerism?
- How can we cater to Ryan’s “vain animal” that lives inside us, satisfy the irrational wants and highly emotional needs, but without sacrificing our children’s future in the process?
“We want to make sure that the discerning luxury customer can have what they want, can feel great about it at the same time and not have to make any type of sacrifice,” Ryan states.
A promise that feels too good to be true:
“You can make change and also have beautiful things.”
Sounds like we can add in those two additional Cs after all.