Strange though it may sound, people around the world are ‘immortalizing’ loved ones by turning their ashes into diamonds. It is seen as a beautiful way to remember deceased parents, spouses, lovers, stillborn babies and even pets.
The most famous among those who will rock on forever as priceless gems is likely to be the late pop star Michael Jackson. Last week, an American company announced plans to make 10 diamonds out of his hair. The gems could be auctioned off — just like the sparkling blue diamond made out of the locks of classic composer Ludwig Van Beethoven two years ago. The Beethoven rock reportedly sold for $200,000.
From ashes to gems:
Memorial diamonds are made by European and American companies. Some of them have branch offices in Asia too, especially in Japan and Taiwan. The companies are undoubtedly keen to tap the Indian market, as cremation is the norm for a large section of people in the country. But death ceremonies here are religious in nature, with the ashes of the deceased being immersed in rivers. Memorial gems may actually be considered a sacrilege. When contacted, UK based Phoenix Diamonds was not willing to disclose any details.
These synthetic gems are made from the carbon in hair and nails, or ash from a cremation. Just a lock of hair, or a few hundred grams of ashes, is needed for a 0.25-2 carat diamond. After the carbon is isolated, high heat and pressure are applied to change carbon into graphite, replicating the natural process of diamond formation. The graphite is then subjected to high heat (over 1,500 degree Celsius) and pressure of about 5-7 gigapascals (GPa). This causes individual atoms to break down and crystallize into a rough diamond.
Scientists have equated this pressure to the Eiffel tower resting on a five-inch plate! At crystallization point, carbon molecules bond together in a pattern found only in a diamond.
“A diamond can be made in a week or two,” says M D Sastry, senior research scientist at the Gemmological Institute of India, Mumbai. That’s almost instant delivery compared to the millions of years it takes for a natural diamond to form. Though there are special tests to help distinguish, Sastry clarifies that there’s absolutely no difference in the properties of natural and synthetic diamonds.