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Business turns the dead into diamonds

By Ramy Inocencio, CNN
May 24, 2012 -- Updated 0746 GMT (1546 HKT)
  • Eva Wu had her 17-year-old son's remains turned into a diamond
  • Cost to turn remains into synthetic diamonds range from $3,000 to $37,000
  • Started by the Swiss company Algordanza, whose name means "remembrance"
  • "I feel peace. I feel he's near me. And it's 100% him. Nothing else but him"

Hong Kong (CNN) -- Eva Wu has kept her son's room unchanged ever since he died in January of 2011. Cornald passed away from a rare form of cancer, known as PEComa, at age 17. Divorced and single, Wu recalled his optimism even in his final days.

"He always comforted me. He said 'Mummy, I know what's going on. I'm not afraid of dying. I know where I'm going to. I have Jesus in my heart so don't worry about me'."

To keep him close in death as he was in life, Wu had his ashes made into a diamond. "I feel peace. I feel he's near me. And it's 100% him. Nothing else but him," said Wu, who keeps the diamond on a cross necklace. "And I can recall his smiling face, and I can recall his gentle character."

That peace is thanks to the Hong Kong company Algordanza, which has been making "remembrance diamonds" since 2008, said Scott Fong, local director of Algordanza.

Headquartered in Switzerland, Algordanza's name comes from the local Romansch language meaning "remembrance." An engineer by education, Fong thought there could be a demand for the service after his mother's aunt passed away in 2007, and he found end-of-life services in Hong Kong to be "crude" and options for burial few.

The ashes-to-diamond process is fairly straightforward, Fong said. Algordanza sends 200 grams of cremated remains to its laboratory in Switzerland. The carbon from those ashes is then filtered out to more than 99% purity and refined into silky, black graphite. A machine then applies volcano-like pressure and temperature: Nine hours later, a synthetic diamond -- which has a bluish rather than clear tint, owing to boron found naturally in the body -- is born.

A quarter-carat diamond retails for about $3000, Fong said. A two-carat diamond, the biggest that Algordanza makes, costs about $37,000.

This price range makes remembrance diamonds competitive with the cost of Hong Kong burials, which range from $2,000 to more than $200,000 depending on the choice of coffin, according to the city's Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.

No space for the dead in Hong Kong

Land is also scarce in Hong Kong. Just as the living complain about Hong Kong's sky-high property prices, interment is pricey for the dead, too, in the city's densely-packed cemeteries. In fact, the Hong Kong government only allows a body to stay buried for a maximum of six years before it must be exhumed and cremated.

Hong Kong fights to find space for the dead

Fong says Algordanza's revenues have doubled since he opened its Hong Kong office in 2008. But Chinese traditional culture holds that the business of death is taboo. Even Fong's father, Bill, had discouraged him from starting his business at first.

"He told me that all of Chinese cultural society would cut off my head for even proposing an idea like this," Fong recalled.

But his father came to accept the idea after questioning if future generations would preserve family traditions, Fong said, like annual tomb visits to pay respect to the departed. His father asked, "Who would then come to visit me?" Fong said.

Fong's father died a few weeks ago due to complications from liver cancer. His remains will be made into a diamond and split among his four children who live around the world, Fong said.

As for Wu, acceptance from her family to create a diamond from her son's remains was slow.

"They know my bonding to my child. They know we are so close," she said. "And if this is the way that can make me happy and comfortable ... (they said) just go ahead."

Wu admits a remembrance diamond may not be the way everyone may want to commemorate their loved ones. But aside from the love held for the departed, a diamond can last nearly as long, she adds.

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