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Be a gem ... in life and death

Note: This was an article in Austin American-Statesman World & Nation, Sunday, September 8, 2002, from the Chicago Tribune.

Your essence can be made a jewel that can probably last forever

By Christine Tatum

Now you can be brilliant and flawless forever. But you have to be cremated first.

A company based in suburban Elk Grove Village, Illinois, has accepted its first deposit for manufactured diamonds made from carbon captured during the cremation process so loved ones -- family members or even pets -- could be mounted on a ring, pendant or other jewelry.

A small number of U.S. funeral homes have signed up to offer memorial diamonds produced by Life Gem. The cost will depend on the size of the gem, starting at $4,000 for a quarter-carat.

Already, a Joliet, Ill, man who is seriously ill with emphysema said his family plans to place an order when the time comes. Jack French said he doesn't want to be Life Gem's first customer, but he would like his remains fashioned into diamonds so his wife and five children will have something far more intimate to pass down than his few personal possessions.

"This will be something that is beautiful, has value and comes right from me," he said.

Greg Herro, chief executive officer, of the company, acknowledged that some people will consider Life Gems a "pretty wacky idea." But, he said, "that's exactly the way revolutionary innovation often happens."

The company uses a well-established manufacturing process, and Herro said his company hopes the increasing number of U.S. cremations will provide a growing market for the product. The Cremation Association of North America reports that about 26 percent of the 2.3 million U.S. residents who died last year were cremated, and it predicts that the nation's cremation rate will jump to nearly 40 percent by 2010.

Herro said the company also wants to begin marketing its service in Japan, where the national cremation rate is more than 98 percent, and in veterinarians' offices across the United States. "People would wear a Life Gem to show off the love, light and energy that came from their animals, too," he suggested.

When left to natural forces, the creation of the world's hardest substance can take millions of years. But since General Electric introduced diamond making to the world in the 1950s, the manufacturing of the stones for industrial purposes -- everything from coating drill bits to building better computer chips -- has broadened to include synthetic diamonds for jewelry.

There's no reason why Life Gem's process shouldn't work, said Kenneth Poeppelmeier, a chemistry professor at Northwestern University.

"At first I thought, 'This is odd,' but... the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is an odd, well-developed science a lot of people would appreciate. I suspect many people in the lab will wish that they had thought of it first," he said.

Life Gem's chief operating officer, Rusty VandenBiesen, said he came up with the idea three years ago after deciding that he didn't want his final resting place to be in a cemetery or in an urn left on a fireplace mantle.

Given that the body is largely made up of carbon and that diamonds are made from carbon, VandenBiesen figured it should be possible to produce a stone from cremated remains.

After three years of trial and error using the cremated remains of several animals and a cadaver, VandenBiesen said, a diamond-manufacturing laboratory outside Munich, Germany, reported success in April. The lab, said one human body could yield as many as 50 stones of varying sizes, VandenBiesen said.

The company confirmed that the German lab created diamonds for Life Gem from carbon extracted from animal and human bone.

Life Gem said the diamonds will take about eight weeks to produce. The company is selling blue diamonds and plans to offer other Colors. A 0.25-carat gem costs $4,000 (the company requires a minimum order of two stones), and a 1-carat gem costs $22,000. Life Gem said it will make only as many stones as are ordered. The company applied for a U.S. patent for the process in March.

Follow-up at http://www.lifegem.com/

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