Professional Jeweler Archive: Ashes to Ashes, Dust to ... Diamonds?

January 2003


Ashes to Ashes, Dust to ... Diamonds?

Just a ghoulish fad or will it be forever?

Science has picked up where nature left off to offer immortality – of a sort – by converting human or animal remains into, you guessed it, diamonds.

Here’s how it works: “Aunt Matilda,” brilliant in life, remembered well for her wit and wisdom, dies. To capture her scintillation for generations to come, scientists cremate her body and transform the resulting carbon into genuine lab-grown diamonds for relatives to look at and remember her by.

In fact, anything that contains the basic element carbon can be converted to diamond through state-of-the-art high-pressure, high-temperature techniques that are used to make other synthetic diamonds. When the news first hit last year, the world was captivated. “We received hundreds of thousands of hits at our Web site ( and were deluged with calls, e-mails and letters from the even remotest areas,” says Greg Herro of LifeGem, the company that offers the service. Indeed, the topic was discussed on CNN, “The Today Show,” NPR and a variety of other programs. The media attention propelled LifeGem, the company belonging to a group of Chicago area-based entrepreneurs, into the spotlight.

One famous rock star – who shall remain unidentifed – was captivated and decided on the spot to sign onto the program in advance, Herro tells Professional Jeweler.

The larger question is whether the concept is sustainable as a business after the uproar dies down. LifeGem officers believe it is.

Great Equalizer

Assuming LifeGem catches on commercially, there would be no shortage of raw material, given the general direction in which we’re all headed. The main concern is how to build enough diamond presses to match burgeoning demand. Enter Lucent Technologies, a Colorado company that has been manufacturing and marketing synthetic diamonds for nearly a decade. “We will be in charge of developing the production side of the business,” says Alex Grizenko, the company’s president.

To meet demand from various regions, the company envisions building LifeGem Creation Centers and installing many more diamond presses. The centers would handle family requests and hold planning interviews with “pre-need” customers. Herro is open to working with insurance companies for term programs, with funeral homes to create diamond displays or with jewelers who would like to create a line of appropriate jewelry. The centers also would house extra graphite from human cremains, should family members want extra diamonds or replacement diamonds. The average body could yield up to 100 1-ct. diamonds, Herro says.

Grizenko adds a gemological note: “Because human remains contain boron, the diamonds are all blue, like the rare natural Type IIb diamonds.” There have been requests for other colors: one customer wants to be a red color diamond, but that would involve treatment techniques, Grizenko says. Interestingly, animals (there is a huge potential market for pets) also yield blue diamonds, which some might say supports the fact we’re all equal under the skin.

• LifeGem, Evanston, IL; (866) LIFEGEM,

– by Robert Weldon, G.G.

Beloved Aunt Matilda, following death and cremation, can be converted into a diamond, similar to the one seen here. LifeGem courtesy of LifeGem, Evanston, IL. Graphic by Robert Weldon.

Copyright © 2003 by Bond Communications