About 10 years ago, Rinaldo Willy was studying how to make synthetic, lab-grown diamonds out of ashes when he came up with the novel idea of turning cremated human remains into eternal diamond keepsakes.
Today, Willy’s Switzerland-based company, Algordanza, is one of the world’s leading providers of “memorial diamonds.” During an average year, the company processes the remains of 800 to 900 people in a high-tech machine that mimics the intense heat and extreme pressure under which natural diamonds are formed about 100 miles below the Earth’s surface.
Interestingly, Willy discovered that most of the diamonds that go through the lab process with come out blue. Willy told NPR that he believes the blue color can be attributed to the existence of boron in the human body. In the natural environment, when trace amounts of boron atoms intermix with the carbon structure of a diamond the result is the blue color. (This phenomenon was mentioned in yesterday’s blog post about a 29.6-carat natural fancy blue diamond that was recently unearthed in South Africa.)
"I don't know why,” Willy said, “but if the diamond is blue, and the deceased also had blue eyes, I hear almost every time that the diamond had the same color as the eyes of the deceased."
Although blue is the most common color, Willy added that diamonds less often will come out white, yellow or near-black.
On one occasion when a white diamond emerged from the lab, Willy was concerned that an impurity may have gotten into the material. He processed it again and got the same curious result. He learned later the deceased had undergone aggressive chemotherapy, which may have altered the boron content of his body.
Willy’s told NPR that his customers hail from 24 countries, and revealed that 25% of his business comes from Japan. The scarcity and high-cost of burial plots in Japan could be a contributing factor.
It costs from $5,000 to $22,000 to turn a loved one’s remains into a sparkling diamond, with the price determined by the size of the final product. The crystal-growing process takes a few weeks, and the longer the material is in the machine, the larger it will grow. About a pound of ashes will yield a single diamond, according to Willy.
Once the rough diamond is extracted from the machine, it is cut and polished into the final faceted gemstone. Often, a customer will have the diamond set into a ring or pendant.
Willy said the diamonds give the family members a feeling that the deceased has returned or is still there with them.