Memorials, floral tributes, lavish funerals – a loved one’s death can be an extravagant affair or a somber, individual one. After all, death is an industry as well as being one of life’s grim inevitabilities. It all depends, of course, on the wishes of the deceased and their surviving relatives.
And nowadays there are more options than ever when it comes to dealing with somebody’s remains. One in particular, though, results in a strangely impressive reminder of the deceased, and it utilizes some pretty interesting scientific techniques, too.
It must be said, however, that it’s a far cry from the traditional methods of burial or cremation many might choose. Indeed, this arguably bizarre alternative involves a bit of time and a lot of energy, but it could turn your – or your loved ones’ – cremated remains into something that apparently lasts forever.
Still, perhaps this should come as no surprise, particularly since the rate of cremations in the U.S. has risen sharply since 1960. In fact, in 2010 some 40 percent of those who kicked the bucket were cremated. This is, however, far lower than in Japan, where virtually everybody is cremated.
For these people, Switzerland-based Algordanza offers a quirky option that occurs after the cremation. That’s right, this company claims to use technology first invented in the 1960s to turn your remains into a synthetic diamond. The resulting product is marketed as a Memorial Diamond.
Other companies offer similar services, all of which center around turning a chunk of the ashy residue that’s left over after a cremation into a synthetic diamond. How, though, does the process work? And how much does turning a loved one into a man-made jewel cost?
To start with, the carbon left over from the cremation process is isolated from the resultant ash. Interestingly, while around a fifth of the human body is composed of carbon, only a small proportion of the stuff remains after cremation.
What does remain is then turned into graphite – the same substance found in pencils – using a combination of high temperatures and great pressure. The resultant graphite forms the basis of the synthetic diamond.
At this point, things get a little more complex. A starter crystal, located inside a growth cell, is melted into an alloy. And this encourages the graphite from your loved one’s ashes to start creating its own synthetic diamond crystals.
The gradual transformation is dependent on replicating the natural conditions that allow diamonds to evolve. This is why special machines, which are capable of producing temperatures as high as 2,500 °F, are needed.
So by the time the growing cell is to be removed, the newly created rough diamond – which would have grown over a period of weeks – will be ready. Before it’s taken away, though, it must be separated from the alloy.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for such a complicated process, the pricetag is pretty hefty. In fact, depending on the size and cut you choose, an Algordanza Memorial Diamond costs between $5,000 and $22,000. Whatever price you choose to pay, though, you’ll receive a wooden box containing the precious – in more ways than one – gem.
According to Rinaldo Willy, the company’s founder, more than a quarter of Algordanza’s business comes from Japan. This is due in part to the country’s funereal practices, but it’s also because the Japanese, generally speaking, have closer cultural connections to their dead.
Indeed, it’s not just for aesthetic reasons that people turn their deceased loved ones into diamonds. Willy has suggested that there are other things – from the practical to the emotional – which people consider before pursuing the diamond route.
Some, for example, can’t afford the costs associated with a burial. Meanwhile, other far-flung relatives choose the diamond option because if they opted for a traditional burial then nobody would be around to tend to the grave.
The idea isn’t, however, without controversy. While some might see it as a fitting way to remember a loved one, others have cast aspersions toward the practice by suggesting that it might not be as above board as it claims.
For instance, a subsidiary of the International School of Gemology has published two reports – one concerning the diamond market in general and another looking into the practices of LifeGem, one of Algordanza’s competitors. And its findings appear to be pretty damning.
Perhaps the most important part of the report deals with the amount of carbon left over after cremation. It says that human remains are cremated at between 1,400 and 1,800 °F, while carbon burns up entirely at 1,800 °F. There’s a very real chance, then, that there’s no carbon left in your loved one’s cremated remains.
This leads to the slightly grisly conclusion that, if you wanted to create a diamond from a loved one’s remains that has more than a tiny amount of carbon, you’d need to use a large – and unburnt – chunk of their remains. Like, say, their head.
Suffice to say, the reports raise some interesting questions about the memorial diamonds market. Sure, there’s a chance you’re getting a lovingly created reminder of the time you spent with your dearly departed relative. At the same time, however, you may also be getting little more than an expensive synthetic diamond. What’s undeniable, though, is that the concept is fascinating.