Fancy being turned into a diamond when you die?

With a shortage of burial space in the UK, more and more people are looking for post burial alternatives. And one increasingly popular choice is to turn the ashes of someone you love into a diamond.

So how bad is the burial ground situation? According to a 2013 study by the BBC, almost half of England’s cemeteries will run out of burial space in the next 20 years.

London alone has a population of approximately 8.6 million people, and is one of the highest aging population in the world. Grave overcrowding, which is at its peak in the London Boroughs of Hackney and Tower Hamlets (neither have any burial space left at all), has caused residents to buy plots in neighbouring cities, or to recycle old graves.

A 2007 law permits the re-use in London cemeteries, but does not apply to the rest of England yet. To date, about 1,000 graves or more have been reused under this law.

Turning ashes into diamonds is a greener alternative

Lack of space isn’t the only reason why people are looking for alternatives to burial. Burials are considered to be bad for the environment. Here are just some of the reasons why:

  • Toxic embalming fluids.
  • The materials (such as hardwood) required for burial.
  • Space and resources required for cemeteries.
  • Pollution of groundwater from coffin materials.

Creating diamonds from ashes in the UK is a greener alternative to traditional burials, releasing 10% less carbon dioxide than burials.

How do you turn ashes into diamonds?

So how do you turn the ashes of someone into a diamond? It’s a relatively simple process involving a cremation ceremony which requires a one-time gas release as the body is being cremated. Diamonds are then created from the carbon content of the cremated ashes or hair of your loved one.

Diamonds are essentially crystallised carbon, and carbon accounts for at least 18% of the human body. Nitrogen accounts for 3% of the human body, and gives diamonds created from ashes their naturally amber color. Purely colourless diamonds are created from ashes by removing boron and nitrogen from the carbon first.

Before embarking on the process, specialist diamonds from ashes vendors will analyse the cremated ashes to determine whether they contain enough carbon to be turned into a diamond (about 200g of ashes or 10g of hair are required).

The ashes are then placed in a specialised crucible, which is heated to over 5000F to make sure every element except carbon oxidises. The temperature is then raised further so that carbon can become graphite.

A metal catalyst and a diamond seed crystal are then placed into the core. The core goes into a specialised diamond press capable of creating extreme tension. This brings the pressure to about 800,000 pounds per square inches.

During the last part of this process the temperature in the room stays about 2500F so that the crystals become solid. This results in rough crystals that are cut and polished into diamonds.

The entire process of turning diamonds into ashes takes six to nine months, depending on the characteristics of the diamonds ordered.

How much does it cost to turn ashes into a diamond?

Turning ashes into diamonds is an affordable alternative to traditional burials. There’s no need to pay for burial plot rent, a headstone, maintenance or the burial ceremony itself (which costs £4,798 on average). A typical direct cremation in the UK also costs approximately £1,835, in comparison.

The cost of turning ashes into diamonds in the UK varies according to the diamond size, colour and cut. It is also possible to order cremation jewellery, such as a ring, a necklace, earrings or pendants.

The cost of turning ashes to diamonds in the UK ranges from £2,200 to up to £15,600. As you might expect, smaller diamonds cost less than larger ones. And purely colourless diamonds require more technical effort and more time to grow, which adds to their cost.  

What other green alternatives are there to burial?

Don’t fancy you ashes being turned into a diamond? Other green burial alternatives available in the UK today include:

  • External reefs – cremated ashes are mixed with cement and deposited in coral reefs lying offshore.
  • Memorial tree – this involves planting trees using cremated ashes of your loved one. Ashes alone are harmful to the wellbeing of plants, but this process uses special memorial urns created with a unique mix to help the cremated ashes release beneficial plant nutrients that can sustain the growth of your memorial tree.
  • Alkaline hydrolysis – this is a chemical process that uses water and a potassium hydroxide alkali solution to chemically heat the remains of your loved one. When purified and dried, these tiny particles are the same as traditionally cremated ashes.

Photo by Wendy Scofield