Ashes to ... Diamonds: A Shiny New Way to Immortalize the Dead
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
It’s a precious person turned into a precious gem.
By Alexander Lau and Molly Fosco
Jackie Sams was devastated when her daughter Katie died suddenly in a car accident at age 19. Losing a child is always horrifying, but Sams found one part particularly upsetting: No one wanted to talk about Katie. Likely too anxious about saying the wrong thing, friends and colleagues stopped mentioning her daughter. Then, Sams discovered a way she could casually bring up Katie in conversation: by wearing a large blue diamond estate ring created from her daughter’s ashes. It was made by Eterneva, a startup based in Austin, Texas.
The first lab-grown diamonds (not made from human ashes) were created in 1953. Synthetic diamonds quickly grew in popularity throughout the decade — though it wasn’t until about six years ago that they could compete with the look of natural diamonds, according to the Gemological Institute of America. Still, an ongoing debate about whether lab-grown diamonds are “real” diamonds looms large in the industry. Legacy jewelers like De Beers have claimed inauthenticity.
But diamonds grown from human cremains are different. It’s not just about owning a piece of jewelry— it’s about honoring and remembering a loved one. And the growing popularity of these “memorial diamonds” speaks for itself. First appearing on the market in the early 2000s, today there are at least nine companies that grow diamonds from human ashes worldwide.
In addition to Eterneva, U.K.-based Heart in Diamond also turns cremains into diamonds set in necklaces, rings or earrings, and ships to most countries. The company has similar prices to Eterneva ($2,500 to $16,000) but offers interest-free payment plans with a 25 percent deposit. Lonité and Algordanza, both based in Switzerland, also have comparable prices for one-carat options. The Algordanza branch in Houston, Texas, offers a two-carat option for a whopping $53,399.
So, how do you grow a diamond from cremains? The process takes between three to nine months; longer if you want a darker color diamond. In the lab, carbon is extracted from the ashes by a machine, which then replicates the exact conditions of the Earth when it’s forming a diamond. Then, thousands of pounds of pressure per square inch are applied in temperatures exceeding 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit. The result: a human-made diamond created by the same process found in nature — just super sped up.
We’re part of a bigger movement that’s changing the conversation around death.
Adelle Archer, co-founder of Eterneva
Adelle Archer and her co-founder Garrett Ozar came upon the idea for Eterneva by accident. Already aware of lab-grown diamonds, they were planning to launch a company targeted at this up-and-coming niche market. That’s when Archer’s business mentor and close friend, Tracey Kaufman, died from cancer. Kaufman’s family gave Archer some of Tracey’s ashes, but she didn’t really know what to do with them. Around that time, Archer and Ozar were consulting with a diamond scientist for their business who happened to mention that it’s possible to create diamonds from the carbon in human ashes. That’s when it clicked, Archer says: It was a unique opportunity to change people’s relationship to loss.
Three years later, Eterneva has turned the ashes of 200 people into wearable diamonds. After the Ventura fires in California last year, they created diamonds from the ashes of a burned home. They also made a gem for an engagement ring from carbon in the couple’s hair. A terminally ill client also designed his own diamond along with his family before he died. People have created pieces from cremated pets too. One San Francisco Bay Area family had six diamond pendants made for their two dogs.
Wearing diamonds made from the dearly departed might seem a little creepy to some. But Archer doesn’t see it that way. “We’re part of a bigger movement that’s changing the conversation around death,” she says. “People are really hungry for a different way to memorialize their loved ones.” Which explains why there are a variety of options in the market infusing cremains in decorative objects — everything from stone picture frames to glass sculptures and windows, even paintings and tattoo ink. Plus other forms of jewelry.
While a memorial diamond might seem like a pricey investment, consider this: An urn in a mausoleum can run $350 to $2,500, burying ashes is usually between $800 and $2,500 and scattering ashes into the ocean from a ship costs around $250 to $1,000.
But the permanence and visibility of memorial diamonds are what make them so significant. Not only are they beautiful, says Archer, but they also last for generations. “No one is ever going to throw a diamond away.”
How to Turn Your Loved Ones’ Ashes into a Diamond
- Consult. First, there’s an initial phone or video consultation with your chosen vendor.
- Commit. After submitting a deposit, you’ll receive a kit in the mail, which includes instructions on how to safely send back the ashes. Choose your color, weight and cut and whether you want the diamond set. Pricing varies.
- Wait. The process can take six to 12 months. In some cases, clients can get personalized video updates every few weeks.
- Don’t worry. Ashes will not get mixed up with someone else’s. In the case of Eterneva, each set of cremains is kept in isolation, tracked via QR codes along the way. Lonité provides scientific documentation of each stage of the process to prove that, yes, your diamond is indeed your loved one.