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Ideas 2003: Diamonds (and grandma) are forever

Ideas 2003: Diamonds (and grandma) are forever

Looking for a novel way to spend eternity? Consider LifeGem, a Chicago company that will turn your ashes into diamonds. Ocean lovers might prefer Eternal Reefs, a Decatur, Ga., company that mixes ashes into concrete to make artificial coral reefs that are dropped into the sea. Then there's Celebrate Life, of Lakeside, Calif., which will scatter your remains in a fireworks display. In fact, when it comes to innovative ways to use cremated remains, the sky is not the limit. Houston's Celestis has already blasted the remains of about 100 people into space, including Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.

"People are looking to personalize the cremation process, and there are many more ways to do that now," says David Walkinshaw, a spokesman for the National Funeral Directors Association in Brookfield, Wis. The trend mirrors the growing popularity of cremation. According to the Cremation Association of America, 25 percent of Americans are cremated when they die, a number expected to double by 2050.

While mixing ashes with concrete is no technological feat, turning them into diamonds is a bit trickier. Normally, carbon leaves the body in the form of carbon dioxide during the cremation process, says Mark Bouffard, a LifeGem spokesman. But a patented process that manipulates the oxygen level in the cremation oven allows the carbon to remain. Then, the carbon is collected, heated in a vacuum until it becomes pure graphite, and sent to a lab where a gem is created in six to eight weeks instead of the usual several million years.

So far, LifeGem has made a batch of colored diamonds from a deceased pig. The first diamonds made from human remains will be ready by early 2003 and sold at prices ranging from $4,000 for a quarter-carat blue diamond to more than US$27,950 for a 1.25-carat red gem. The diamonds are naturally light blue, but LifeGem is also creating red and yellow ones by removing boron and adding color to the gems. And the diamond owners won't have to worry about misplacing all that remains of Grandma or Grandpa. "Each person has enough carbon to make 50 to 100 life gems," Bouffard says. "We'll store the remaining carbon just in case."

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