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Product, Service & Design Innovation
A Paradigm(ond) Shift:
Lab-Grown Diamonds Are Changing the Meaning of Luxury

If you see a lab-grown diamond and a mined diamond side by side, they both elicit the same scintillating awe; but lab-grown gemstones don’t carry the injustices of their mined counterparts. For Aether and Sacet, transparency, ethics and regeneration are the future of luxury.

The problem with mined diamonds

Nothing shines like a diamond; but its journey from mine to jeweler is anything but scintillating. It’s well documented that mined diamonds carry a steep environmental and social price tag. A diamond passes through multiple hands, dealers, merchants and countries on its way from the mine to the jewelers. You’ll likely pay between $2,500-$18,000 for a one-carat diamond, but the per-carat cost paid by the planet is even greater:

  • 1,128 pounds of CO2e emitted

  • 1,028 gallons of freshwater used in extraction and processing

  • One thousand tons of earth extracted

During extraction, mine tailings often leach toxic compounds into the environment and contaminate local drinking water. Biodiversity in mining regions is dwindling; and social impacts such as forced labor, unsafe working conditions and conflict are well-understood consequences of diamond extraction.

The international recognition of “blood diamonds” spurred the creation of the Kimberley Process, which sought to make conflict-free diamonds the norm. Since 2003, nearly all mined diamonds on the open market are verified conflict-free through the Kimberley Process. But for a burgeoning share of the diamond market, the Kimberley Process is no longer enough.

According to Sacet diamond specialist James Harris, the Kimberley Process is non-regulatory, and companies aren’t vetted with boots-on-ground auditors. Furthermore, the Kimberley Process doesn’t account for all of the nuances of intersectional social and environmental issues. Many Kimberley Process-certified diamonds are derived from regions experiencing new types of conflict, and climate impacts aren’t front and center in certification.—

Natural vs synthetic: What’s the difference?

The short answer: Virtually none.

Lab-grown diamonds are chemically identical to mined ones. For the purists out there, Harris emphasized they are a genuine carbon diamond, and there’s nothing unnatural about them. Compared to mined diamonds, lab-grown diamonds are cheaper, and have a much lower social and environmental cost. And unlike the Kimberley Process, Harris said, lab-grown diamonds can be easily externally audited to ensure good labor and environmental practices.

But, what’s the catch? So far, Harris told Sustainable Brands™, he doesn’t see one. It’s like asking a recycling center, “What’s your ulterior motive?”

Sacet is a jewelry producer exclusively sourcing certified lab-grown diamonds. Sacet takes it a step further by only using recycled precious metals and recycled packaging from strictly vetted suppliers. Cutting out the middleman, Sacet crafts all of its jewelry in an artisanal workshop that pays artisans an above living wage. Furthermore, Sacet uses 100 percent of profits from its workshop to provide its workers and their communities with skills development, education and healthcare.

“The whole vision is to bring the artisans into the forefront of what we do,” Harris said.

While Sacet sources ethically produced lab-grown diamonds, Aether literally pulls them out of thin air.

While most lab-grown diamonds use fossil-based feedstocks, Aether is the only diamond grower that creates diamonds from atmospheric CO2 — making Aether diamonds the world’s first carbon-negative gemstones. On top of that, Aether invests some of its proceeds in drawdown and avoidance projects. Through direct sequestration and external collaborations, Aether has committed to removing 20 tons of carbon for every carat it creates; it is also the only diamond company in the world to earn B Corp certification.

While Sacet and Aether are reinventing the diamond industry, there’s an elephant in the room: Is there even a place for high-luxury items during a climate crisis?

Luxury in a climate crisis: The great rebranding

What is luxury? If you see a lab-grown diamond and a mined diamond side by side, they both elicit the same scintillating awe. A lab-grown gemstone, however, doesn’t carry the injustice of its mined counterpart. For Aether co-founder and CEO Ryan Shearman, transparency, ethics and regeneration are the future of luxury.

“For better or worse, people are going to keep buying diamonds,” Shearman told SB. “Therefore, it’s beholden on us if we care about the environment to produce them in as responsible a manner as possible.”

Aether and Sacet are part of an evolving luxury landscape that is reshaping the future of the diamond business. The world’s largest jewelry brand, Pandora, recently ditched mined diamonds for lab-grown in an effort to mitigate ongoing risks of negative impacts; and huge players including LVMH have also acquired synthetic diamond facilities, marking a seismic shift in lab-grown diamond acceptance.

Consumer demand for sustainability, traceability and carbon neutrality are causing lab-grown diamonds to go mainstream, Harris explained. This indicates a drastic change in the definition of luxury: It’s not about the price, but the emotion.

“Luxury doesn’t have to be expensive,” Shearman asserted. “It’s unique, it’s how it makes you feel, and it’s good for the environment.”

As he pointed out, the wealthy have a vastly disproportionate impact on the environment; and luxury goods can be emblems of excess and waste. Shearman wants to flip the script on luxury — making diamonds from the air not only less expensive than mined ones but creating an outsized, net-positive impact on the planet.

Aether and Sacet want to see diamonds not just as symbols of luxury, but vessels of social and environmental good. Because diamonds are so charismatic, a climate-positive diamond plays a role in keeping climate action as part of the zeitgeist and at the forefront of conversations with cultural casemakers.

For Aether, changing the culture around diamonds is just as important as doing the work of drawing down carbon from the atmosphere.

“For us, we can process that carbon in a way that brings beauty into the world,” Shearman said. “If we can be a part of that conversation, we’re going to bring the climate crisis along by virtue of who we are. It becomes a self-reinforcing mission, allowing consumers to tell the story instead of relying on ourselves to do it.”