Diamonds haven’t at all times been a lady’s finest buddy. Before the 1930’s, they have been no extra synonymous with weddings than opals, rubies and sapphires which had been routinely used in engagement rings for hundreds of years. It actually wasn’t till DeBeers — the South African mining firm which has traditionally managed round 85 p.c of the worldwide diamond market — launched its “A Diamond Is Forever” advertising and marketing scheme in the Forties that demand for the sparkly stones skyrocketed.
An estimated 142 million carats of tough diamonds have been dug out of mines worldwide in 2019 — usually at reprehensible environmental and human prices. Pulling only one carat of diamond out of the bottom calls for staff to maneuver near 100 sq. ft of soil, ensuing in almost 6,000 kilos of waste materials and as much as a ton of launched carbon dioxide. Strip mines, such because the Mir mine in Eastern Siberia under, could be seen from the ISS.
“I don’t want science to inform that [lab-grown diamonds] is much less dangerous than [the Mir mine in Siberia],” diamond service provider Alexander Weindling informed The Guardian final March. “My eyes inform me that’s quite a bit worse for our planet. We don’t have to dig these large holes in the earth any extra which are seen from house. We used to hunt whales. We don’t try this anymore will we?”
In Africa, the place 65 p.c of the world’s diamonds are produced, mines routinely make use of baby and teenage laborers at slave wages in harmful working circumstances. The observe grew so egregious in latest many years that in 2003, the worldwide group needed to set up the Kimberly course of to assist forestall so-called “blood diamonds” — these produced in battle zones and whose gross sales funded these combating efforts — from reaching market. However the method is riddled with loopholes which have largely defanged its enforcement.
“Today, when you’ve got a toddler working for $3 a day doing backbreaking work waist deep in a river sifting for diamonds, that is referred to as ‘artisanal mining,’” Ryan Shearman, Founder and CEO of Aether Diamonds stated in a latest name with Engadget. “It’s not referred to as baby abuse, and that skates by way of the Kimberley Process as a result of the proceeds from that diamond sale did not go to fund a neighborhood warlord.”
The pure diamond business has additionally confronted a sequence of financial challenges in latest years together with a glut of stock in 2019 — regardless of diamonds’ values consistently being touted as because of their “rarity” — and the COVID-19 pandemic, which noticed demand for diamonds plummet in 2020. Prices for high-quality 1-carat stones nonetheless managed to rise about 12 p.c in 2020, 12 months over 12 months, nonetheless decrease high quality and smaller dimension diamonds have seen their values drop between 15 and 27 p.c over the identical interval.
“If you might be in that high finish, the demand is nonetheless there as a result of the individuals who go for these sorts of items really feel the stress of the market downturn much less,” Gus Simbanegavi, CEO of Bluerock Diamonds BRD.L, informed Reuters.
That certain looks like quite a bit of hassle for a cloth we’ve identified the atomic make-up of since 1797 and have been capable of develop beneath laboratory circumstances for almost 70 years. General Electric was the primary firm to commercialize the method. In 1941, GE partnered with the Norton and Carborundum corporations and managed to warmth carbon samples to five,430 levels F at pressures in extra of 510,000 PSI earlier than it quickly paused the mission for WWII. The program resumed in 1951 and, by 1954, had succeeded in creating the primary commercially viable lab-grown diamond. Those first few batches have been offered as heatsinks for electronics to be used in analysis. Gem-quality lab-grown diamonds wouldn’t arrive in jewellery shows till the Eighties.
These days, diamond labs around the globe develop greater than 100 tons of the mineral yearly. “They’re equivalent [to natural diamonds] on the atomic stage,” Sharman stated. “They have the very same chemical, mechanical and optical properties, and there is not a human being on the planet that may inform the distinction. The solely method you are able to do so is by basically operating a chemical evaluation — and lab grown diamonds are in truth extra pure than what comes from the bottom.”
Aether’s merchandise are particularly distinctive given the novel methodology of their creation. “We are using direct air seize expertise to tug dangerous atmospheric CO2, Shearman defined. “We then take that by way of a bit of fashionable alchemy, and the proprietary manufacturing course of we have developed, to show it into gem grade diamonds.”
Each one of Aether’s air seize reactors is reportedly capable of take in as much as 50 metric tons of carbon dioxide per 12 months, nonetheless the corporate has pledged to suck 20 metric tons of CO2 — that’s greater than the 16 metric tons your common American generates in a 12 months — for each carat of diamond that it produces. From begin to end, rising such diamonds takes round 12 weeks in whole.
“The drawback with most lab grown diamonds, apart from Aether diamonds, is that they nonetheless have to supply their carbon from someplace,” Shearman stated. “Oftentimes, that comes from fossil fuels which is obtained through drilling and fracking. And so, as a lot as lab grown diamond manufacturers on the market declare to be sustainable, quite a bit of it I’m afraid is greenwashing language, as a result of even when they’re utilizing environmentally pleasant energy (which most of them aren’t) they’re nonetheless counting on fossil fuels for his or her carbon and that is a finite useful resource.”
The firm is cautious in the place it sources the remainder of its supplies as properly, from the steel used in setting the stones to the packaging that they’re shipped in. “We both use ultrasuede that is created from plant biomass or we use New Zealand wool for inserts in our ring bins,” Aether CFO Robert Hagemann added. “And then [we use] all FSC licensed inside cardboard constructions for our items. We additionally do carbon offsets for the logistics.”
In addition to being extra ecologically pleasant, Aether’s grown diamonds are roughly 40 p.c cheaper than their pure counterparts. That implies that even on the low finish of the market, say, a diamond solitaire ring that may price $5000 to $6000 on the Zales in your native mall would solely set you again simply $3700 have been the gems made in Aether’s lab.
Aether’s efforts might have a disruptive impact on the worldwide diamond market, an externality that the corporate is hoping for. “If we take extra market share, it is going to put these sorts of corporations which are abusing these individuals out of enterprise,” Hagemann stated. “That’s good and dangerous. It’s good as a result of it ends one thing that in all probability should not be occurring to start with,” however dangerous as a result of the previously exploited staff at the moment are out of a job.
To counter this, the corporate is seeking to work with NGOs and nonprofits on retraining efforts or maybe “establishing a footprint for solar energy technology… there’s quite a bit of other ways we will come in and have a optimistic profit in areas which have had this historic damaging affect,” Hagemann stated. “That’s a giant purpose for us.”
Looking forward, Hagemann and Shearman hope to make Aether’s total operation — not simply its diamonds — carbon damaging by 2023. To accomplish that, the staff plans to vertically combine its varied phases of manufacturing. “The extra we management round our provide chain, the higher off we’ll be with limiting our total carbon footprint,” Shearman famous. The firm additionally hopes to begin using wind as an influence supply, “having the ability to combine sustainable energy technology on website is one thing that we have talked about for the reason that earliest days of the corporate.” Eventually Aether needs to succeed in a stage of effectivity the place the corporate can push any extra power manufacturing again to the native municipal grid.