Diamonds made from the ashes of the dead may sound eerie, but it’s been a fascinating reality for more than a decade now. Did you know there are companies which make “certified, high quality” diamonds from the ashes of dead people and the fur and ashes of dead pets? One such company is called LifeGem and so are the diamonds it creates. Its website says “LifeGem is an authentic diamond created from the ashes of your loved one as a memorial to their unique and wonderful life. You have experienced a love without equal… someone truly special in your life. Your LifeGem diamond will provide a memory that lasts forever… We have thousands of clients…”

According to Wikipedia, LifeGem was founded in the United States in 2001 and in 2015 its revenue was $250 million. “LifeGem was the first US company to develop a way to extract carbon from human remains… LifeGem’s services are offered at over 5000 of the nearly 20,000 funeral homes in the United States…These synthetic diamonds are touted as ‘memorial diamonds’ and range in price from USD $3,499 for 0.20–0.29 carat (40 to 59 mg) stones to $19,999 for stones weighing 0.90–0.99 carats (180–199 mg). The company can extract enough purified carbon from a single cremated human body to synthesize upto 50 gems weighing one carat (200 mg) each, or up to 100 diamonds of smaller size, while sending remaining ashes to the family. Diamonds made from the remains of pets are priced the same as those made from human remains…”

Further, it has been disclosed that from cremation to finished stone, the entire process takes up to six months for yellow LifeGem diamonds and up to nine months for blue LifeGem diamonds.  LifeGem now produces yellow, blue, white, red, and green diamonds as well.

In September 2007, Wikipedia states, “LifeGem announced the completion and auction of the Ludwig van Beethoven LifeGem diamond—a blue .56 ct round brilliant diamond which was the first ever created from the carbon of a celebrity or historical figure. Three diamonds were created partially from 130 mg of carbon extracted from 10 strands of hair from the remains of Ludwig van Beethoven, and partially from added carbon. One of the three diamonds was listed for auction on eBay for US $1,000,000.00, with the proceeds to be donated to assist underprivileged children. The diamond was eventually sold for US $202,700 after 62 bids on eBay…”

LifeGem isn’t the only company engaged in turning cold ashes of the dead into sparkling diamonds. Nor is the United States the only country with companies specialising in making such diamonds. Today, turning the ashes of the dead into diamonds has become a thriving global industry, with most companies having an international network of dealers and partners. To name some, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, Portugal, Brazil, Taiwan, Lithuania, Puerto Rico, Japan, China, Poland, are part of the network. India too has a Heart In Diamond dealer.  Heart In Diamond is a well established company that makes “Memorial and Cremation Diamonds” and is backed like most other companies with sophisticated, high tech marketing which banks on providing a beautiful, nostalgic connection with the dead. “A lasting reminder of your loved one? Memorial Diamonds and cremation diamonds made from ashes or hair. Select your style: start now”, says the Heart In Diamond website.

The “Guiding Principles” enumerated by Heart In Diamond are a mix of sentiment, commerce and marketing. “We treat all remains with reverence and respect. Every customer is an individual and not a number…We are committed to delivering a product of the highest quality…”

In fact, each company has a carefully crafted USP. For example, “Is an ALGORDANZA Memorial Diamond a genuine diamond? Yes, the ALGORDANZA Memorial Diamond has the same physical, chemical, and optical properties as a natural diamond. In our production site in Switzerland we recreate the natural formation conditions for your individual ALGORDANZA Memorial Diamond to grow.”

All the companies use funeral homes, social media, advertising and websites, etc, as the means to market their products. Incidentally, the services provided by these firms are mentioned in the film As Above, So Below. All the companies emphasise that Lab diamonds have the same physical, chemical, and optical properties as mined diamonds. Moreover, Lab diamonds, they point out are slightly more affordable than natural diamonds of comparable size and quality.

Harry Burl, the driving force behind Man-MadeDiamonds, was described several years ago by Forbes as “running one of the most successful man-made diamond businesses… with a unique twist. He takes funeral ash and hair and turns them into heirlooms.” Burl told Forbes: “These diamonds are 100% eco-friendly with no impact on the environment whatsoever. They have the same physical and optical properties of natural diamonds with the exception that there has been no vandalism of nature and no exploitation of miners. Because they can be made from human remains—ashes or hair—they are sentimental souvenirs of love, as well.”

From the clients feedback on various company websites, it seems to be a win-win situation for the living who have lost a loved one and of course for the companies which turn ashes of the dead into diamonds. But what do those who are dead feel about their remains or a part thereof being turned into diamonds? Does it please them to know that after death they have become part of a flourishing commercial industry on earth, never mind the motivation? Do they like the idea of their ashes or hair being worn in the form of a diamond ring on someone’s finger, even if it’s a loved one who treasures their memory? Writing on the subject “Turning Dead Corpses Into Diamond Jewelry is an Upcycling Extreme”, Farrel Pinto, a Metallurgical Engineer from the Philippines raised an interesting question:  Can you really convert the ashes of your grandma, husband or son into a diamond ring… and wear it?

Indeed, is it ethical to use a dead person’s remains to create a product, no matter how beautiful, and use powerful marketing strategies to popularise the concept? Does wearing a “dead ashes diamond” by those still living impede the dead person’s journey to other realms by strengthening the attachment and memories factor? All these and other related questions have absorbing, intriguing answers but they’ll have to wait till a future column.