LifeGem is the world's first company offering to synthesize memorial diamonds from the carbonized remains of people or pets. Established as the International Research & Recovery Corporation, LifeGem was the first U.S. company to develop a way to extract carbon from remains. According to Dean VandenBiesen, speaking on the Stan and Terry show May 7, 2007, the company is able to create a diamond from a lock of hair. The company was founded in 2001 by Greg Herro, Mike Herro, Rusty VandenBiesen, and Dean VandenBiesen, and was first based in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. It is now headquartered in Chicago and a second office, under the name LifeGem UK, was recently opened in Hove, England. In 2006, LifeGem had US$ 7.5 million in revenue. Projections for 2007 included an increased sales of 15% to 20%. LifeGem's services are offered at over 580 of the nearly 20,000 funeral homes in the United States.
These synthetic diamonds
are touted as "memorial diamonds
" and range in price from USD
$2,500 for 0.20–0.29 carat
(40 to 59 mg
) stones to $14,000 for stones weighing 0.90–0.99 carats (180–199 mg). The company can extract enough purified carbon from one incompletely cremated human body to synthesize up to 50 gems
weighing one carat (0.2 g) each. As little as 227 g
of carbonized remains are needed to make one diamond, and up to 100 diamonds can be created from the remains of one individual. Diamonds made from the cremains of pets are priced the same as those made from human remains, but the size of the animal may be a limiting factor. As of March 2005
, LifeGem said it had served 1,000 customers since the company's founding.
The carbon from the remains is converted to graphite
after purification, from which point it is placed in a diamond synthesis press. The diamonds are made via the thermal gradient method using alloys as a flux
at pressures of 5.0–6.0 GPa
and temperatures of 1,600–2,000 °C. The entire process, from cremation to finished stone, takes up to six months for yellow LifeGem diamonds and up to nine months for blue LifeGem diamonds.
Due to boron impurities present in the carbon, most LifeGem synthetic diamonds produced up to 2003 were Type IIb and were a light to medium blue in colour. Iron flux inclusions within the stones also rendered them magnetic. The synthesis process has since been modified, and LifeGem now produces yellow, blue, white (clear), red, and green diamonds.
Three standard diamond cuts are offered to customers: Round brilliant, radiant, and princess (the latter two cuts are rectangular and square in outline, respectively). The finished stones are laser inscribed with an identifier, graded by gemologists, and are given a signed certificate of authenticity which contains a LifeGem ID#. The client also gets a report with a GIA serial number, a description of the stone's color, and the fact that it was lab-produced.
In September 2007, LifeGem announced the completion and auction of the Ludwig van Beethoven LifeGem diamond - a blue .56 ct
round brilliant diamond which was the first ever created from the carbon of a celebrity or historical figure. Three diamonds were created partially from 130 mg
of carbon extracted from 10 strands of hair from the remains of Ludwig van Beethoven
, and partially from added carbon. One of the three diamonds was listed for auction on eBay for US $1,000,000.00, with the proceeds to be donated to assist underprivileged children.
The diamond was eventually sold for US $202,700 after 62 bids on Ebay. One of the other two diamonds was given to John Reznikoff, provider of the Beethoven hair sample, to be stored at the University Archives, and the final diamond is being kept by LifeGem to start a LifeGem "Chain of Fame".
Several companies offer memorial diamonds
- GemSmart, a company based in San Diego, California which has been in business since 2002
- Algordanza, a company based in Switzerland
- Heart-In Diamond, a company based in Russia
- Anniversary Diamonds, a company based in United Kingdom
- New Life Diamonds and Gems
- Gallegos, D., Wolfe, R. (2005). Sparkling in memory. DenverPost.com. Retrieved 12 April, 2005 from http://www.denverpost.com/Stories/0,1413,36~33~2771085,00.html.
- Laurs, B. M., Overton, T. W. (2003). LifeGem synthetic diamonds. Gems & Gemology, Vol. 39 No. 1., p. 62. Gemological Institute of America.
- Novotny, M. (2005). The ultimate family jewel. MSNBC News: Countdown with Keith Olbermann. Retrieved 12 April, 2005 from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4751684.
- Jones, N. (2006). Blunt Ashes. Hip-Hop is Dead.