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From Ashes To Ashes To Diamonds: A Way To Treasure The Dead

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Diamonds are supposed to be a girl's best friend. Now, they might also be her mother, father or grandmother.

Swiss company Algordanza takes cremated human remains and — under high heat and pressure that mimic conditions deep within the Earth — compresses them into diamonds.

Rinaldo Willy, the company's founder and CEO, says he came up with the idea a decade ago. Since then, his customer base has expanded to 24 countries.

Each year, the remains of between 800 and 900 people enter the facility. About three months later, they exit as diamonds, to be kept in a box or turned into jewelry.

Most of the stones come out blue, Willy says, because the human body contains trace amounts of boron, an element that may be involved in bone formation. Occasionally, though, a diamond pops out white, yellow or close to black – Willy's not sure why. Regardless, he says, "every diamond from each person is slightly different. It's always a unique diamond."

Most of the orders Algordanza receives come from relatives of the recently deceased, though some people make arrangements for themselves to become diamonds once they've died. Willy says about 25 percent of his customers are from Japan.

At between $5,000 and $22,000, the process costs as much as some funerals. The process and machinery involved are about the same as in a lab that makes synthetic diamonds from other carbon materials.

The basic process reduces the ash to carbon, then slides it into a machine that applies intense heat and pressure — for weeks. That's at least several hundred million years faster than diamonds are made in nature.

"The more time you give this process, the bigger the rough diamond starts to grow," Willy says. After the new diamond cools off, the crystal is ground and cut to shape, and sometimes engraved with a laser.

It only takes about a pound of ashes to make a single diamond, Willy says. His company has created up to nine diamonds from one individual's ashes.

Algordanza isn't the only company blinging out the afterlife, either. An American company called LifeGem offers the same services, and there are a number of U.S. patents for similar procedures.

Most of the time, Willy says, people take the diamonds to a jeweler to be made into rings or pendants.

"I don't know why, 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," says Willy, who personally delivers the diamonds to his Swiss customers.

Each time, he says, the family is happy that their loved one has, in a sense, returned home. And in sparkling form to boot.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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