Rest in (a Jewelry) Piece: Deriving Diamonds From the Dead

We’ve all heard of man-made diamonds. But never before have we had diamonds made of man.

LifeGem is an Acro, Ill.-based company that manufactures synthetic diamonds from the cremated remains of deceased loved ones or pets. The company uses a patented process that takes the carbon out of cremated remains, then subjects it to heat and pressure until it becomes diamond. Like most synthetic producers, the company creates primarily fancy-colored stones—including blues, yellows, and reds—although the company expects “to be creating colorless LifeGem diamonds very soon.”

LifeGem CEO Greg Herro says it takes just a “thimble-full” of carbon to create a LifeGem, and up to 100 stones can be created from one person.

The idea grew out of dissatisfaction with existing memorial options, Herro explains.

“This is more than a memorial to visit on the weekends or place on a shelf,” he says. “This stone comes from the actual loved one. People can have it with them whether they are golfing or at the beach or wherever they are. Plus, diamond is the hardest substance known to man, virtually indestructible. It will be an heirloom until the end of time.”

LifeGem’s press release notes that the diamonds will come with reports from the New York branch of the European Gemological Laboratory. But EGL-USA officials told JCK that the concept was news to them.

“EGL-USA has no formal agreement or relationship with LifeGem and was totally unaware of the origin of the stones that were certified,” says EGL director Mark Gershburg. “The LifeGem stones were sent to EGL-USA because it is the only U.S. lab that certifies synthetic stones. … At this time, EGL-USA does not have enough information about this new product to comment about the use of the EGL name in conjunction with it in the future.”

Gemologists expressed surprise at the LifeGem concept but said there was no reason it couldn’t be done.

“Carbon is carbon, no matter where you get it from,” says Shane McClure, director of West Coast Identification Services for the Gemological Institute of America. “It seems they are using the same process that has been used by other synthetic manufacturers. The difference is where they are getting the carbon.”

But McClure wasn’t sure how the company could assure relatives that the stones really were made from their loved ones. “We have seen people try to find a way to trace synthetics, and it hasn’t worked yet,” he says.

LifeGem’s Web site says the company will use an “advanced tracking system” to trace the stones and will have an “open door” for the bereaved. “The families will be able to witness as much of our process as is reasonably comfortable for them,” Herro says.

Partly because of the publicity the unusual product has generated, demand is running way above estimates, Herro says: “We planned only for 100 diamonds in the first year, but based on our incoming orders and requests it looks like we will far surpass that.”

One man who is seriously ill with emphysema told the Chicago Tribune he decided on a LifeGem because “it will be something beautiful, has value, and comes right from me.”

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