Just off the coast of Namibia, the ocean floor is scattered with… diamonds. Real, actual diamonds. Exactly like the ones you’re familiar with—the kind extracted from mines—these stones are billions of years old. But entirely unlike those diamonds, they were carried through rivers, churned through mega-storms, and eventually emptied into the Atlantic over the course of millennia. They can be plucked from the water by the human hand, “with no trace left on the environment.”
The story is as awe-inspiring as nature itself, but if you’re wondering why you didn’t know “ocean diamonds” exist, you aren’t alone. Even Baylee Zwart, the founder of fine jewellery label Azlee and an expert in rare-cut diamonds, admits she had no idea it was possible. “This is a whole new category of diamond,” she says. “I’ve asked other people in the jewellery industry if they’re familiar with ‘ocean diamonds,’ and they’re like, What are you talking about? It’s the coolest thing I’ve heard in a while.”
It isn’t like this is particularly new technology. The world’s largest diamond companies have been sourcing stones from the Namibian coastline for decades—they just haven’t marketed them as “ocean diamonds.” Why? Robert Goodden, who spent his career in marine mining, believes it comes down to two reasons: For one, ocean diamonds make up a very small fraction of global production—they’re only found in this particular stretch of the Atlantic, so it may be more trouble than it’s worth to separate stones into categories. More importantly, if a company did differentiate between “ocean diamonds” and “mined diamonds,” which represent most of their business, consumers would inevitably draw comparisons between the two. Which one is “better”? Which is rarer? Which is more valuable?
Goodden would happily say the former. The conversation around diamonds has become incredibly fraught: On one side, the lab-grown diamond community has taken issue with the environmental and social risks of diamond mining, while natural diamond organizations point out the enormous amount of energy required to make diamonds in a lab. Neither is perfect, but ocean diamonds could be a third option—one that requires less human intervention and ecosystem disruption. A few years ago, Goodden saw an opportunity for a company that would exclusively collect, cut, polish, and sell diamonds sourced from the ocean; fittingly, he called it Ocean Diamonds.
“I really wanted to do it on romantic grounds,” he says. “These diamonds are so special—why lose them among the others? They connect you to the ocean, and they aren’t cut out [of the earth], they’re just there amongst the gravel. It’s primitive and wonderful,” he continues. “But today there is also a great wish [from consumers] to know where things come from, and we can do that better than anyone.”
Romance aside, traceability is Ocean Diamonds’s big selling point. Goodden’s team employs a small group of “artisan divers” in Namibia who go out on small dive boats, search for diamonds along the seafloor, and bring them back to be sorted. The process is carefully documented: “We know who found each diamond, where and when they found it, which boat they were on, what the weather was like that day,” Goodden says. In contrast, larger companies use ships to comb deeper stretches of the ocean floor; the process involves pulling up gravel, sifting through it for diamonds, and returning the rocks to the sea, with less insight into where or who found each stone.
Azlee’s Zwart learned of Ocean Diamonds’s work when an email from Goodden’s team landed in her inbox last year. The companies’ missions are nicely aligned: As an avid surfer and diver, Zwart has donated a percentage of sales to ocean conservancy projects since Azlee’s launch in 2015. Ocean Diamonds proposed a collaboration, and Zwart became their first American design partner. Her first capsule of sculptural rings, earrings, and necklaces studded with round Ocean Diamonds recently debuted exclusively on MatchesFashion.com.