A Girl’s Best Friend

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Who would have thought there’d be good business in turning your loved one’s ashes into memorial diamonds?

A COMPANY IN SWITZERLAND is converting human ashes into diamonds carrying your loved one’s carbon. So whether you choose to wear dad in a pendant, your husband on your decolletage or your best friend in a brooch, ashes to diamond is the new memorial stone. Macabre? Not according to the grieving loved ones across the globe who’ve taken to wearing all the glittering facets of those they’ve lost as rough stones or cut and polished diamonds.

Memorial diamonds are trending in over 33 countries, with production increasing by 10 percent each year. Asia is purportedly the largest market, with the US, UK and Germany close on their heels. The notable exceptions are Australia and New Zealand.

Apart from antipodean conservatism – or cynicism – the business is booming.

Algordanza, meaning ‘remembrance’ in numerological circles, opened its doors in South Africa late last year with Austrian- born Katherina Oberlerchner and her partner, Keith Kroon, at the helm of the Cape Town headquarters. The partners are quick to point out that the memorial diamond is in fact a genuine diamond. ‘It has the same optical, chemical and physical properties as well as refractive indices of a natural diamond,’ says Kroon. ‘We imitate the natural process of how a diamond is formed deep in the earth’s mantle and fast- track them above the ground.’

It all started with Rinaldo Willy, a young business administration student at the University of Applied Sciences HTW Chur in Switzerland in 2003. He had read that a Russian engineer was able to create diamonds from ashes and, in a sombre but nevertheless brilliant moment, had an idea. Why not create memorial diamonds from crematorium ashes? Why the urn on the mantelpiece or scattering ashes when you could wear your loved one?

Together with his professor, Willy took to the lab and analysed cremated remains to determine the concentration of carbon – the essence of a diamond. Most of the carbon burns off as carbon dioxide, but the 1,5 to 3 percent that remains is sufficient raw material. The carbon is isolated in a chemical process and the rest is pressure, heat and history.

In collaboration with Russian scientists, they made their first diamond in 2003. In 2004 the company Algordanza was founded, custom machines built and the creme de la creme of diamonds was born.

Clients provide Algordanza with approximately 500g ashes, which are sent in two separate 250g courier deliveries to Switzerland. Kroon says, ‘We only send the second 250g once we have confirmed receipt of the first.’

When the lab receives the ashes, each delivery is marked with its unique reference number. ‘The reference number helps to audit and overlook the entire process. This is not a mass-market process and no diamond leaves the headquarters without Willy’s quality control and documentation signed by him,’ says Kroon.

There are several choices in terms of cut, polish and size, but not colour. All the diamonds are varying hues of blue. Blue diamonds are traditionally the most expensive and it is the boron in the body – a vital trace mineral that is required for normal growth and health – that can create the extremely rare, noble, icy blue.

The process is exacting and the equipment dear. There are six machines at HQ costing over R7,5 million each, and only one diamond can be manufactured at a time, a process that can take up to six months. All the diamond manufacturing is centralised in Domat/Ems in Switzerland where the machines are housed, and the manufacturing process is ISO compliant.

It appears that not only the loved ones request a diamond made from ashes after the fact. Kroon tells the story of a relatively cheerful but terminally ill elderly lady, who popped in to see Algordanza to ensure the process of immortalising her went smoothly. ‘After carefully selecting her legacy she left, only to arrive a few weeks later in a neatly labelled box,’ he says.

What about those whose cultural or religious beliefs do not allow cremation? Kroon says that memorial diamonds can also be made out of hair. Apparently you need only about l5g of human hair to extract enough carbon for a diamond.

For some, their nearest and dearest is, in fact, their pet. The good news is that when Rex or Bon-Bon shuffle off the canine coil, you can have a diamond made out of what is after all man’s best friend. The sister company of Algordanza – Semper Fides (Always Loyal) – creates the diamonds at a ‘separate facility,’ says Kroon, ‘and it has proved a very popular way of immortalising your beloved dog, rabbit, budgie or cat.’

How much will a diamond set you back? According to Kroon, just over R50 000 for a .3 carat uncut diamond, but up to as much as R270 000 for a larger stone. ‘Remember, you are paying for sentimental value as well as the intrinsic value. It is, of course, something you would pass down rather than sell on the open market.’ Unless your loved one was famous. Two locks of Marilyn Monroe’s platinum blonde hair recently fetched just under Rl million in a celebrity memorabilia auction. Her entirety? Priceless.

 


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