Reincarnate as a Diamond
The latest in jewelry: wear a departed loved one around your neck or on your finger. Cremated remains can now be processed to produce diamond.
Is it strange? Yes. But it’s the latest technology and the newest hype in the funeral services industry. “Death no longer has to be a final parting,” says a representative of LifeGem, based in Chicago.
To make the diamond, technicians extract carbon from a person’s cremated remains. They then subject it to extreme temperature and pressure, mimicking the way nature produces diamond from coal. Technology accomplishes in a few months the change that takes nature millions of years.
The remains of one person typically yield a diamond between .25 carats and 1.3 carats. Or, a number of smaller gems can be made. The remains of one young woman were turned into six diamonds, which could be set into any sort of jewelry the family desired. A person’s carbon remains can also be stored with the company for future conversion into gems.
Centers for creating diamonds from cremated remains are being set up around the world. The process is seen as a boon for the funeral industry, with funeral homes acting as links between customers and this new service. A number of people have made advance arrangements for themselves, so their loved ones will have a piece of them as a permanent, tangible memory. The service is also offered for pets.
These services and products are being made available under a variety of names. Our discussion uses information from LifeGem, because this company has a large and detailed Web site.
How good are these diamonds?
LifeGem’s site says that the only difference between a natural diamond and one of theirs is that natural diamonds are formed with “an arbitrary carbon source.” There’s much more to be said. LifeGem and similar companies produce synthetic diamond, a controversial product in general. We’ll discuss synthetic diamonds in detail in our next issue.
According to its Web site, the company’s synthesized diamonds are certified by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). Many buyers will take this to be a stamp of quality. However, as discussed in our March 2002 issue, the GIA certificate merely describes the gem; it does not give valuation, and it is not some sort of honor reserved only for high-quality diamonds.
Let’s look at one of these products in terms of the 4 Cs of diamond quality.
“The elements and impurities in your loved one's carbon directly affect the resulting color of your LifeGem(s),” says the Web site. An unmentioned fact is that, although the highest quality diamonds are colorless, it is not yet possible to synthesize a colorless diamond. So manufacturers alter their off-color products by adding other ingredients or by irradiating the stones. Then, making a virtue of necessity, they advertise blue, red and yellow diamonds.
LifeGem gives no guarantee for clarity but gives a wide range in which the gem will fall. Apparently the process cannot control for clarity.
LifeGem can create diamonds from .25 carat to 1.3 carats. The buyer can choose to have one larger diamond or many small stones.
Cut proportions, which account for fully half a diamond’s value, are not discussed at all. (Three popular shapes are offered under the heading “cut,” but shape is not cut.)
And a 5th C: Cost
LifeGem’s prices start at $2,299 (presumably for the smallest they offer, .25 carat).
For comparison, a natural .25-carat diamond of mid-range clarity that has been made blue by irradiation would retail for $500 to $600.
Another comparison. Synthesized gems have only a fraction the value of natural gems. For example, the wholesale cost of a natural half-carat emerald is 14 times the cost of a synthesized emerald of the same size.
In a bit of misleading “education,” the LifeGem site links to a page with prices for natural blue diamonds. Intense colors in natural diamonds are extremely rare, and such stones are valued in the tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. The LifeGem customer is not getting a rare natural diamond, however, but a cheaply produced synthetic one.
The prices quoted are for loose gems. Should the purchaser want the diamonds set in jewelry, LifeGem has its own setting provider.
What does all this mean
for the agent, underwriter, and adjuster?
Making diamonds from human carbon is still very new, but the business is expected to grow quickly. Banking on the rising cremation rates, these companies are marketing diamonds as unique, highly personalized memorials to replace burial rites and tombstones.
Insurers should consider several issues in deciding how, or indeed whether, to insure such jewelry.
- The buyers pay more than the jewelry is worth (to anyone else); that is, they pay far beyond market value. A sales slip does not reflect value at all.
- Sentimental value cannot be insured. This jewelry is particularly charged. Loss of such a ring could cause a person to re-experience the death of the loved one, and this grief will affect the policyholder’s response to the claim adjustment.
- If mom gets lost, there is no “like kind” replacement.
- The insurer might have a replacement made from carbon stored with LifeGem, but how do we know it’s the same person’s carbon? There’s no DNA to distinguish one carbon from another.
- Policyholders have acquired this jewelry under stressful circumstances. They may not be able to accept the insurer’s cautions and caveats regarding value and replacement.
- Moral hazard. The deceased made the arrangement, but the heir might rather have the money than the jewelry.
- The agent/underwriter should know that jewelry under consideration has this origin and this emotional content. Such information is not given on an appraisal or GIA Certificate. The policyholder would have to volunteer the information or the insurer would have to recognize the seller or manufacturer as a company dealing in diamonds made of human carbon.
Few topics we’ve covered have invited dialog as this one does. Though the business is now very new, in 5 or 10 years we expect it to be mainstream. Now is the time for insurers to consider how they will deal with insuring human-based diamonds.
We welcome any comments from agents, underwriters or adjusters on the subject and we will print them in a future issue.
Next Issue: Synthetic Diamonds
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