Science

Dust to Dust, Ashes to Diamonds

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A beautiful, blue LifeGem diamond ring.

A few weeks back, I wrote about how I am not a fan of diamond engagement rings and of diamond jewelry, in general. Mostly, this is because I have some moral apprehensions about the way the diamond industry is run. However, I am going to speak out in support of the artificial diamonds created by a company called LifeGem. This company makes artificial diamonds from the cremated remains of deceased humans and animals. The vice president of the company recently came here to MIT to give a talk as part of the geology department’s Diamond Seminar Series. The artificial diamonds the company makes are really beautiful and, clearly, they carry a large amount of meaning for the people who order these diamonds.

At first, the idea of turning your loved one into an expensive artificial diamond may sound a little crazy. I mean, I can just imagine an attractive, middle aged woman out on a date. Her date comments on her beautiful diamond earrings, and she replies, “oh, yes. I turn my deceased ex-husbands into diamonds.” There is a little bit of a creepiness factor to turning dead relatives into diamonds, I must admit. I mean, would Elizabeth Taylor end up with a diamond tennis bracelet made from all her dead husbands?

However, is it really so creepy to turn the ugly remains of dead person into something beautiful? As a geologist, I find the idea of being turned into a diamond when I die sort of appealing. Really, I want to donate my body to science. I mean, I’ll be dead, so I won’t care and it gives me some comfort now to know that my dead body could do something useful. Someone may as well get some use out of my decaying carbon and hydrogen atoms. However, ending up as a nice piece of jewelry worn by a family member would be okay, too.

Funeral rituals are for the living, anyway. Dead Uncle Ernie doesn’t care– or even realize– that he’s sitting in a flower-covered urn on the fireplace mantle. He’s dead. In my atheistic worldview, that’s it. No survival after death, no feelings or emotions after death. Just decomposition and return to the Earth. Or to a diamond, apparently. You can bet that Uncle Ernie’s wife Aunt Betty cares a great amount about that urn full of ashes. Maybe she feels better knowing that some part of her dead husband is still close to her, watching over her from the fireplace. In my opinion, turning cremated ashes into diamonds is just taking the cremated-relative-in-the-living-room one step further. If it gives the living some comfort to own diamonds made from their deceased relatives, then why shouldn’t diamonds be made from dead relatives? Dust to dust, ashes to diamonds.

Interestingly, the company recently announced that they can also make diamonds from locks of hair. So, you can make your living relatives into diamonds, too. Hmm… maybe an engagement ring made from the hair of your beloved is just a little too creepy, but at least it’s not a conflict diamond.

Evelyn

Evelyn is a geologist, writer, traveler, and skeptic residing in Cape Town, South Africa with frequent trips back to the US for work. She has two adorable cats; enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and kayaking; and has a very large rock collection. You can follow her on twitter @GeoEvelyn. She also writes a geology blog called Georneys.

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9 Comments

  1. My weight is about 140 kg (280 pounds?) so I'd be a brilliant diamond. The amount of carbon is far less, I know (is there a way of calculating this? 0.2 times the weight?) but there must be more left of me than an average guy when I'm done. I won't be dying any time soon and we do shrink when get older, but it would be great if we could stock beforehand some of the stuff we loose (a fat bank perhaps). I'm not taking the mick, I agree with most of what you say, although I for some reason believe ME will somehow be again in some odd way, I'm self-centered enough to think that. And if I'm wrong it really won't bother me.

    Hey, keep talking, I love the Sceptic's Guide podcast.

    Sharks – brilliant, Nazis – rubbish.

  2. Having some of your beloved deads' atoms incorporated into an artificial diamond seems less creepy, in some ways, than keeping their ashes around the house.

    And you're right, Evelyn: funerals and wakes are for the living. Even if you believe in an afterlife (which I don't anymore), the loss and separation still need to be addressed. The living have to accept, as best they can, the reality of death and go on.

  3. I don't see any creepiness at all from making a diamond out of your hair for a loved one(granted, I'm a bit of a lunatic, so this might not be consensus). I think it's quite touching.

    Imagine if this had been around in Van Gogh's time. That silly goose.

  4. The only problem I have with LifeGem is that there's no evidence that they actually make diamonds out of people. Their techniques are secret, and it would be very easy for them to buy artificial diamonds that other makers have rejected for not being clear enough. It would save them an awful lot of money.

    I'm probably just uncharitable, but it makes me a little uneasy…

  5. Oh, and not just people, but pets too!

    While this is a sweet idea… [activate skeptical mode!]

    I see they are currently offering diamonds made from Beethoven's hair… um, any proof of that?

    And just how much carbon can you get out of a lock of hair, and what size diamond do you end up with? Would just extracting one atom of carbon and placing it into an existing diamond count enough to for this process?

    While I'm sure they are extreem professionals, "gemological" sounds as up there as "geminess" and "gemicality".

    And I just saw the price…

  6. Wintermute, the Life Gem diamonds can be analysed with the correct equipment, though it is not easy and requires relatively expensive equipment and well trained operators for the best examples, which is one of the reasons these worry Deboers. Some have speculated that these diamonds might be closer to the reason for Deboers adopting laser etching diamonds rather than the need to prove that any particular stones are not conflict diamonds. Well, that and the need to maintain the false mystique about the rarity of diamonds. As laser etching is far cheaper than the equipment needed for differentiating the best examples. Either the BBC2 or C4 in the UK did a program about the company last year and took a number of the diamonds to a Deboer's representative to test. Some could be differentiated with relatively low cost standard equipment but the best examples needed both very expensive equipment and a skilled operator. They can be detected as artificially created diamonds due to their structure and I if I remember correctly, it was something to do with the structure being a bit too perfect, especially the arrangement of the impurities giving them their colour, when compared to natural diamonds. But don't quote me as I don't have the time to check up on it at the moment :)

  7. Well, I suppose, since it is to comfort the living, it doesn't matter if they actually use the right ashes. As long as one believes, he is comforted. But I ain't buying it. I fail to believe that they can create such pretties out of ashes (help me out you geologists, is it possible?) and I'm sure not shelling out upwards of 20K for a keepsake. I thought it was pretty obscene when my vet charged me $120 to cremate my dog. I keep her ashes in a decorative Middle Eastern-style box.

  8. Everyone– based on my knowledge as a geologist, I honestly believe that they are making diamonds from human and animal remains. It isn't difficult to do, actually. Diamonds are just carbon atoms, and it's relatively easy to extract carbon from human and animal ashes. Hair is a little more difficult but, again, it's very possible.

    LifeGem is open about the techniques they use. Aside from extracting the carbon from the remains, the process they use to make diamonds is a common one in the artificial diamond industry. I've seen many pictures of the process and chatted with the vice president about the details. I don't think this is a scam.

    Aside from the colored diamonds, the LifeGem diamonds do not have much value as artificial stones. At least, not compared to natural stones. However, the stones do have value because they were made from the loved ones of the people who ordered the diamonds. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, after all…

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