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Cremation jewelry - who knew?

| June 15, 2010 9:00 PM

Seashells, silver, and sapphires, yes, but how about late Uncle Fred around your neck? Keeping loved ones close to the heart is apparently more than metaphor.

Despite the procedural errors and factual unrealities, I still enjoy the occasional episode of "Law & Order." Last week the suspect - a flashy widow - dangled her well-decorated fingers at a detective and announced the presence of her first husband thereupon. No, literally, she said. "He's right here, in my diamond ring."

Surely not, I thought. Is this possible? Can people be turned into diamonds? Carbon is carbon, be it human or rock. The process is actually quite simple. Given enough heat and the right amount of pressure, the carbon in cremated remains can become a rough diamond, and cut for "cremation jewelry."

Natural diamonds form about 100 miles below surface in the molten rock of the Earth's mantle. There carbon can be subject to 435,113 pounds per square inch of pressure at a temperature of at least 752 degrees Fahrenheit. Under perfect conditions (otherwise, you may get graphite), the carbon becomes diamond. Or I should say became - typically millions of years ago.

To make jewelry the carbon from cremated remains is placed in a machine that approximates these conditions to create rough diamonds. Non-diamond forms of cremation/memorial jewelry are simpler, with a small amount simply placed in sealed pendants.

To some this is a comfort. To others it may seem morbid, although not without precedent. Throughout history, bones, teeth, claws, and other body parts animal and human have been worn as jewelry.

The rare "golden jade" is made not from jade, but a bird bill. Bugs were common material for ancient Eastern jewelry. Rabbits' feet are still around for luck, and in old Scotland grouse feet were lovingly decorated by women to adorn their men's chests. In the 19th century, human hair jewelry was quite popular and woven into intricate weaves for women's chokers, belt buckles, and brooches.

Recycling is the latest trend. Brightly colored necklaces made from bits of newspaper, plastic bottles, and other refuse are attempts to turn old into new and useful. Among many a mother's most valuable pieces are macaroni shell necklaces and string bracelets.

True beauty is lovingly subjective.

Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. E-mail sholehjo@hotmail.com

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