Robert Hagemann has done consulting work with some of the biggest names in fashion, including Burberry and Tiffany & Co., but his love for the environment led him to tackle a new challenge. Now, Hagemann and the rest of the team at Aether Diamonds are creating sustainable diamonds by harnessing excess carbon from our air and applying massive amounts of pressure to create stunning diamond jewelry that’s unparalleled in both beauty and sustainability.
As a member of the LGBTQ community, Hagemann is also determined to change the jewelry industry. He knows that the world of fashion is changing and that the diamond industry needs to expand and produce pieces of jewelry that better reflect the modern consumer. Passport sat down with Hagemann to discover how these diamonds are made and how they’re helping the environment.
How did Aether get the idea to start, quite literally, making diamonds out of thin air?
Everyone on the team here is sort of like amateur environmentalists, and so we all chat a lot about helping the planet. One of the biggest issues we face is that there’s too much CO2 in the air…but CO2 is also the foundational element for making a diamond. So we all thought, why not take excess carbon out of the air and use it to make diamonds.
This concept is similar to what they call “lab-grown” diamonds. But lab-grown diamonds can sometimes be just as bad for the environment as mined diamonds. When making a lab-grown diamond, you need two things – energy and carbon. But the problem is that a lot of these plants use fossil fuels to power their generators and to harvest carbon, which is terrible for the planet.
How were you able to create a different system from the others? If so many other lab-grown diamonds are pollutive, how did you manage to create a system where you pulled carbon out of the air and powered a diamond-making machine without creating pollution?
Our main goal has always been to invest in green energy. We wanted to make sure that every stage of our diamonds’ production never released more carbon than what we were sucking out of the air, that way each diamond would always come out as being “climate positive”.
In stage one, we capture the carbon. There are these giant direct air capture machines that literally just suck in air and filter out the carbon. We partner with a company in Europe that powers its air capture machines with 100% renewable energy.
In the second stage, we take the carbon we captured and then isolate it down to what’s called hydrocarbon. That allows us to then put it into the diamond reactor, which again, is powered with sustainable energy. We power it with things like eco-methane, which is the methane that is naturally produced from landfills. Rather than have it go into the atmosphere, it’s captured and used as an energy source. Our process of diamond-making ends up producing only water and oxygen as byproducts.
So, at the end of the day, do you know how “green” each diamond is? Could you tell someone how much carbon was saved with each diamond?
Yeah, so every one-karat diamond removes 20 metric tons of air pollution from the atmosphere. To put that into perspective, the average yearly carbon footprint for an American is 16 metric tons. So, if you buy a two-karat diamond, you’re able to offset your carbon footprint for over two years.
What’s next for your brand? How do you plan to grow the company and get more people excited about sustainable diamonds?
Well, I’m a member of the LGBTQ community, and that’s really helped me see things from a different angle. I recognize that everyone has different wants and needs, and fashion and culture are rapidly changing. Jewelry is even changing…diamonds aren’t just used for heterosexual engagement rings anymore. Love is much bigger than that, and therefore, we’re seeing demand for a lot of different styles and looks for our commitment rings – we don’t call them engagement rings, we prefer commitment rings.
These days, jewelry also isn’t just for women. There are actually lots of men who are branching out with their fashion, so we’re seeing an entirely new market emerge. So, to sum it up, we’re creating diamond pieces for a lot of different types of people. Obviously, traditional commitment rings will always be in our lineup, but we’re also making some diamond pieces that are new and unique.
So, let’s say fifty years down the line…do you think sustainable diamonds will begin overtaking the industry and become the new normal in the jewelry world?
Yeah, and to be honest, it has to be. The world’s supply of natural diamonds is actually running out, and it’s running out at a pretty significant pace. At a certain point, demand is just going to grow too big for the supply. And beyond the sustainability issues of mined diamonds, we also have the humanitarian issues*. We’ve all heard of “blood diamonds” and know that some of the diamond mines partake in the mistreatment of workers. And, sadly, a lot of the money profited from the diamond trade ends up going to fund corrupt governments, so there’s a real need for the industry to change. But I think that as we continue to grow, and as consumers begin to see that there are actually better alternatives out there than mined diamonds, the market will naturally shift for the better.
*(Human Rights Watch released a report in 2018 about the ongoing human rights violations at some diamond mines, and just the other week Mining.com released a new round of evidence detailing abuse and murder taking place at a Petra Diamonds mine in Tanzania)