Sustainability

With its atmosphere-cleaning mission, lab-grown diamond startup Aether lands $18 million in funding

Lots of companies reduce carbon, but Aether actually makes diamonds from carbon that’s been filtered from the air.
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Aether

· 3 min read

If you’re smitten and you’re green, what could be more romantic than getting down on one knee, snapping open the jewelry box, and proposing to your beloved with a ring…made, in part, from air pollution? That’s the idea behind Aether, a DTC startup that makes lab-grown diamonds from carbon that’s been removed from the atmosphere, and which announced today that it raised $18 million.

  • The round was led by Helena, the venture capital firm with a non-profit arm that supports environmental and social issues. Trirec, SoundWaves, Khosla Ventures, and Social Impact Capital also participated.
  • Aether’s total funding since its founding in 2018 is now more than $21 million.

Nevermined

As lab-grown diamonds gain popularity as an alternative to traditional (mined) diamonds, Aether positions itself as an alternative to the other alternatives. Aether says that it’s developed a proprietary process to use CO2 which has been removed from the atmosphere. It gets the carbon from Climeworks, a carbon-capture plant company in Switzerland that’s also worked with Helena.

“The way we’ve looked at it, we’ve created this third category of diamond,” Ryan Shearman, Aether’s cofounder and CEO, told Retail Brew. “Luxury consumers can come to us without having to sacrifice on quality, and values-aligned consumers can come to us knowing that we’re going to drive a more tangible benefit to the environment.”

  • Aether claims that for every 1-carat diamond a consumer buys, it removes 20 metric tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere, more than the annual carbon footprint for an average American.
  • Last month, the company became a B Corp, which it says makes it the only diamond company with the certification.

Shearman said that the new investment will enable the DTC brand, which offers diamonds in its own setting designs, to develop a wholesale biz selling its unset diamonds directly to independent jewelry stores as well.

“Introducing loose diamonds at wholesale gives us an opportunity to really broaden our reach pretty quickly,” Shearman explained.

  • Aether also plans to open its first pop-up shops this year, most likely beginning in New York, where it is based, he added.

Labsolutely: Lab-grown diamond jewelry accounted for an estimated 8% of diamond sales globally in 2021, totalling approximately $5.9 billion, according to industry analyst Paul Zimnisky.

  • Aether, which began shipping products to customers in the middle of 2021, declined to provide specific sales data but has said it produced “hundreds” of carats of diamonds in 2021 and will increase that to thousands this year.

Now many, appropriately enough, want a cut.

  • Pandora, the Danish jewelry manufacturer and retailer, announced in 2021 that it will sell only lab-grown diamonds.
  • De Beers, the diamond giant, introduced a lab-grown subsidiary, Lightbox Jewelry, in 2018.
  • Vrai, a lab-diamond company backed by Blood Diamond star and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio, opened a flagship store in Los Angeles in 2021. The brand is also certified carbon-neutral.

Carats and sticks

While brands like Vrai also tout green bona fides, Henry Elkus, founder and CEO of Helena, said what drew the VC firm to Aether is that it helps create a market for captured carbon. That, in the long run, could make carbon-capture plants more economically viable.

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“Just like the solar industry needed to get its cost curve down 20 years ago, carbon capture needs to get its cost curve down or else we’re not going to solve climate change—because we need to suck CO2 out of the air,” Elkus told us.—AAN

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