A decade ago, businesses began transforming cremated remains into man-made diamonds to memorialize people. Now, the industry is finding a new area of growth: pets.
"It's a little eccentric—not something everyone would do," Natalie Pilon, a Boston-based biotech sales representative whose cat, Meowy, died last year, told The Wall Street Journal. "It's a way for me to remember my cat, and have her with me all the time."
Meowy had blue eyes, and now Ms. Pilon has a sapphire ring that features two blue diamonds made of Meowy's remains.
How pets become jewels
A man-made diamond has the same properties as a naturally occurring one, and it is produced simply by hastening the natural process that creates a diamond. As the Journal reports:
After separating the carbon from other compounds in the remains to produce graphite, the companies put the carbon and a diamond seed crystal into a chamber with thick metal walls that heats it to more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit under about 800,000 pounds per square inch of pressure. After a number of days, a rough diamond emerges that can be cut and polished.
Some companies use slightly different processes. For instance, Pet Gems takes naturally occurring zircon stones and combines them with ashes. The color of the resulting stone will be influenced by the unique chemical composition of the remains, and the product is cheaper too.
Making a one-carat diamond takes less than a full cup of ashes or unpacked hair. (Companies can add carbon from other sources if the ashes don't have enough.) And some pet owners are even turning the fur of their living pets into jewels. The Journal says of a paralegal from Allentown, Pa.:
Megan Oswald-Held collected samples of hair from three of her dogs, a Yorkie-poo and two Lhasa Apsos, and mixed that with a sample of hair she saved from her deceased Lhasa Apso, Jade, to make a three-quarter-carat radiant-cut diamond. The gem cost $4,700.
Prices for man-made gems begin at $250 but the minimum for pet diamonds is $1,400 -- color and size can increase the price.
What fuels the trend
"The whole concept of creating a diamond from a personal source of carbon is not widely known, believe it or not," Tom Bischoff, president of DNA2Diamonds, the American sales and distribution branch of New Age Diamonds Holding, a lab-created diamond maker, told The Journal.
But many pet owners are turning to the practice in order to keep pets close in the form of rings or pendants after they've gone. Allen R. McConnell, a professor of social psychology at Miami University in Ohio who studies human-pet relationships, says that having a physical reminder of a pet can aid pet owners in their grieving.
One company catering to such pet owners, LifeGem, says it has made more than 1,000 animal diamonds in the past decade, from pets as common as dogs and cats but also from rarer species such as birds, rabbits and horses. Someone even made jewelry out of an armadillo.
Dean VandenBiesen, LifeGem's co-founder, says the gems are as unique as the pets because the "remains have some unique characteristics in terms of the ratios of elements, so no two diamonds are exactly alike." (Customers cannot be 100% sure that their pet's remains were actually used to make the jewels, so the entire transaction is based on trust.)
Jennifer Durante of St. Petersburg, Fla., had Pet Gems make a light-blue zircon gemstone out of remains from her teacup Chihuahua, Tetley. "It reminds me of his eyes when the sun would shine into them," she says.
Some are following this practice for multiple pets, such as Phyllis Laferriere, a 67-year-old retired medical technician from Milford, Mass., who wears a bracelet featuring seven zircons out of her seven deceased cats. Each zircon/cat is recognizable by color: The light-blue one is Tyler, the amber one is Jake, and so on.
"It brings back happy memories," says Ms. Laferriere, "and you remember all the silly things they did."
Watch the Journal video of Ms. Pilon, explaining how she decided to turn Meowy into a sapphire and diamond ring.
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