Diamonds are little stones loaded with meaning and fraught with controversy. They’ve dominated the engagement ring market for the last 70 years. But many jewelry-lovers prefer not to support the cultural, environmental and social byproducts of these sparkly jewels. Instead, lab-grown diamonds have been a popular alternative. Now a company called Aether has announced that it can make diamonds out of the air — polluted air, that is. Aether takes carbon dioxide pollution in the atmosphere and turns it into beautiful, precious stones.

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The problem with diamonds

Why go to great lengths to make diamonds in labs or out of the air when they already grow in the ground? The main troubles in the diamond business start in the extraction phase. For example, reckless diamond mining in Angola has led to deforestation, soil erosion and forced relocation of residents. Miners have built dams and rerouted rivers to expose riverbeds, adversely affecting fish and other wildlife. In Sierra Leone, miners left behind thousands of ugly abandoned mining pits, leaving the terrain unsuitable for wildlife habitat or for farming.

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Nor are conditions good for workers. In some African countries, miners make as little as a dollar a day. Labor is often forced, including child labor. Workers are subject to physical and sexual abuse, and disease is rife in unsanitary workers’ housing. Throw in the blood diamond issue — diamonds mined in war zones to fund civil wars — and the appeal of alternate ways to acquire diamonds is crystal clear.

close-up of diamond ring on a hand

The Aether way

Aether uses atmospheric collectors to pull air pollution out of the sky and collect it in special filters. Workers synthesize the captured carbon into a usable hydrocarbon raw material that is suitable for growing diamonds in reactors. As carbon atoms align into crystalline form, the diamonds grow one fractal at a time. After the diamonds come out of the reactor, they’re ready to be cut and polished, just like mined diamonds. According to Aether, its creations are the first diamonds to use carbon from a non-underground source.

“We’re committed to the unprecedented modern alchemy of turning air pollution into precious stones,” Ryan Shearman, CEO of Aether, said in a statement, “and committed to serving as a beacon for integrity and transparency in the diamond industry, where so many others have fallen short on that promise to consumers.”

person wearing diamond ring and diamond earrings

Carbon neutrality and beyond

Lab-grown diamonds are often touted as being carbon-neutral and/or sustainable. While they do have advantages over mined diamonds, lab-grown diamonds need carbon, and that still has to be sourced from somewhere. Traditionally, that means fossil fuels. “Every other lab-grown diamond jewelry brand relies on carbon sourced from methods such as drilling and fracking, destroying the planet they claim to be protecting,” according to a statement from Aether. “Their claims of ‘sustainability’ don’t really stand up to close inspection.”

Aether’s carbon sequestration technology is something new. It goes beyond carbon-neutral to actually reverse pollution and help clean up the environment. For every 1-carat diamond it produces, Aether claims to remove 20 metric tons of atmospheric CO2. This is equal to an average person’s carbon footprint over 1.25 years.

ring with two pear-shaped diamonds

The products

Just because something is eco-friendly doesn’t always mean it is attractive enough that you’d want to wear it. So how do Aether diamonds stack up to other jewelry brands? It turns out that they’re very lovely, modern and chic.

The brand currently specializes in rings, with about a dozen choices. It also offers a few necklaces and earrings as well as a wrist cuff. Rings range from simple bands to the Horizon Double Diamond Ring with two pear- or cushion-cut diamonds in 1 and 0.5 carats. All of the company’s gold is fairly mined and comes in yellow, white or rose gold.

The Synthesis Diamond Statement Earrings are one of the flashier products, with enough diamonds to offset 6.7 years of carbon footprint and a price tag of nearly $40,000. Like many of Aether’s jewels, the statement earrings are available only through a waitlist.

A brand for the future

Companies that can deliver beautiful goods while reassuring consumers that they are spending their money on sustainable products are set to triumph. Aether offers just that winning combination.

“Amid global climate change and all of the other challenges 2020 has brought with it, we believe there is currently great opportunity for high-minded doers to step in and help shape the future,” Shearman said. “Now more than ever, forces for true and lasting change are coalescing to transform our world into one where massive positive advancements for humanity and the planet are truly possible. Aether is proud to be a part of that change for good as the creator of the world’s first gem quality diamonds from air.”

+ Aether Diamonds

Images via Aether Diamonds