9OYS Extra: Dust to Diamonds
Reporter: Kimberly Romo
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Ashes to ashes, dust to diamonds. A Chicago area company is making beautiful gems out of the remains of your loved ones. Scientifically, it's possible. And while it may not be for everyone, some people say it helps them cope during a tragic time. A Tucson man who had it done with his wife says he wouldn't change a thing.
Vernon and Roberta Dunlap were just settling into retired life in Tucson, when Roberta started suffering severe back pain. It turned out to be something worse than they both imagined - a tumor in her kidney. It was cancerous, and had spread to her liver. Three and a half months later, Roberta passed away. Vernon lost his love of 37 years. Next week will mark the one-year anniversary of her death. Vernon says the thing he misses most about her is just having her at his side...Being able to touch her, and talk to her. While he doesn't have her anymore, he has what he says is the next best thing - a gorgeous, glittery diamond made from Roberta's remains. Scientifically, it's possible. It's done with a lock of hair, or a few ounces of cremated remains. The company that does it, Lifegem, told us how it's done, step-by-step. First, the remains are sealed in a special graphite crucible. An identification number is etched into it. The carbon is captured, and while the existing ash is removed, the carbon is converted to graphite. The graphite is placed in a diamond press, which replicates the heat and pressure that is deep within the Earth. The result? A rough diamond crystal that's faceted. The identification number is etched on it, and it's certified for authenticy.
Adair Funeral Home in Tucson is a Lifegem distributor. Funeral arranger Michelle Garcia says most grieving families know about the more mainstream options for cremated remains, like keeping them in an urn, or putting a small amount in a piece of jewelry. But they always stop and ask questions about this. Garcia says, "They see that and they'll approach me and say - really, a diamond? And I say yes, it's possible. A lot of people are just shocked by it." Shocked, but intrigued with the idea of having a one-of-a-kind keepsake to hold, cherish, and pass on for generations. For Vernon, it's a lasting tribute - an extraordinary way to keep Roberta close to him, and ease the grieving process. He says, "It gives me something else to look at besides her photograph. It really is her."
The price tag for the quarter-carat diamod he ordered - about $3500. It took 9 months for the diamond to be created, but Vernon says it is well worth the wait. He says, "it's a lot more beautiful than an urn that's sitting around." In keeping with Roberta's wishes, the rest of her remains were scattered in Scotland. Vernon plans on taking the diamond to Ohio to show the rest of their family before deciding on what piece of jewelry to have it set in. He's considering wearing it in a necklace, or possibly having it set in his wedding ring.