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By Aug 04, 2008 Updated Aug 23, 2017

Life and Death Gemstones

Synthetic Diamond Life Gem
Synthetic Diamond Life Gem

The gemstone world has its share of eccentrics and shrewd operators. Or to put it in the American vernacular, wackos and scammers. But we've recently come across one case so strange, we don't know whether it's wacko or a scam. Maybe it's even a legitimate business.

The technology to make synthetic gems has been around for years. It is used to make gemstones for industrial use or for low-cost commercial jewelry. But several companies around the world have found a new twist on synthetic gems; they're making gems from the cremated ashes of deceased human beings. Or people's pets.

As far as we can tell, the first company with this unusual idea started in Chicago in 2001. They call themselves Life Gem. They make small synthetic diamonds using carbonized ashes from cremated human remains. They take a few hundred grams of cremated ashes and extract the carbon from the material. Then they heat the carbon at 3,000 degrees centigrade to create graphite. The graphite then goes into a diamond press where it is subject to high temperature and pressure. A half carat cut diamond resulting from this process sells for around $7,500.

Synthetic Gem Memory Jewels
Memory Jewels Synthetic Gem

It's apparently such a good business that other companies in Switzerland, Russia, the USA and Australia have got into the market. The companies have names like ashes2gems, Eternal Gem and Memory Jewels. Some of the firms specialize in diamonds while others produce colored gems. The colored gems are available in a variety of colors that include a loved one's ashes along with aluminum oxide or other gem materials that are melted and recrystallized to create synthetic sapphires and suchlike.

Cat Gem Some Day
Pet Cat; Possible Gemstone

Synthetic colored gems are a lot cheaper than diamonds, usually costing under $1,000 including a setting of the customer's choice. The diamonds don't involve any foreign material - just the loved one's carbon atoms. The colored gems, on the other hand, actually include some of the dearly departed's ashes, ground very finely and mixed with the gem material. It's a hard choice.

Most of these companies promote their pet business quite aggressively. Memory Jewels actually has a separate website just for pets. The marketing logic seems to be that the people who can't quite stomach creating gems from their human family - what marketers call the "gag factor" - might not be so squeamish when it comes to their beloved deceased dog or cat. After all, some people have their pet immortalized by taxidermy. Another factor is that pets don't live nearly as long and Memory Jewels could get some good repeat business from devoted dog owners.

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