Ashes into Diamonds

Ashes into Diamonds

Written by Alice Rochester on 27 March 2017

It's always an honour to be trusted with re-designing a family heirloom as it has so much sentimental value. So imagine how special we feel when the diamond we have been asked to incorporate into a piece of bespoke jewellery is not just something a loved family member has worn, but it has actually been grown from their ashes.  The technology used to do this is fascinating.

The human body is made up of approximately 18% carbon, and 3% nitrogen, both of which are essential elements in diamond.  As a result, you can send cremated ashes or even hair from a loved one to one of several companies, and they can use this to create a new diamond in their lab.

To begin with, they analyse the carbon content of the material you send them. The sample is then broken down under carefully controlled conditions to remove any impurities that might prevent growth of the crystal. The pure carbon that is extracted is put into a diamond synthesis machine, along with a tiny diamond 'seed' which is used to start the crystal growth.

This is then subjected to incredibly high pressures and temperatures - in excess of 2,700 degrees Celsius and 60,000 Bar. The diamond grows over a period of weeks or months depending on the colour and size of the stone requested.  Yellow diamonds can be grown much more quickly than colourless diamonds, for example, which grow at around 0.5-1mg/hour. The slower the crystal growth and the more stable the growing environment, the better the crystal structure. The resulting diamond is then cut and polished to reveal the brilliance of the stone, and some are laser inscribed with an identifying code or personal message.

Yellow crystals occur because of the naturally occurring nitrogen in the sample. Green crystals contain carbon and nitrogen like yellow crystals, but they then have electrons fired at them to 'irritate' the structure and change the colour. Red crystals are formed from carbon and nitrogen which are then put under additional heat and pressure. To achieve blue crystals, the nitrogen must be removed and boron added. Clear crystals are formed from pure carbon so the nitrogen has to be removed entirely.

Diamonds formed from ashes are not something that everyone will feel comfortable with, but for those who want to create a timeless memorial, they are priceless.