Friday, July 10, 2009


New Paper
10 July 2009

Want to remember your loved ones in death? Turn their remains into a diamond

By Ng Tze Yong

WHEN funeral director Victor Hoo shows you the diamonds, they are sparkling 1-carat babies, but you'll likely not want to touch them, thank you very much.

Instead, you'll probably admire them from afar with a morbid curiosity.

'Erm... so who's this guy?' you'll try asking.

In a Singapore that is growing in affluence - and ageing rapidly - a local funeral home, Singapore Funeral Services (SFS), is offering these perfect fusion of death and beauty, convinced they will catch on.

Cremate your loved ones - and instead of leaving the ashes in a hard-to-find niche in the temple - send it to a lab in Switzerland.

A few months later, welcome Grandpa home as a precious stone - complete with a certificate from the Gemological Institute of America listing his cut, carat, clarity and colour.

The service is provided by a Swiss-based company Algordanza, which was founded in 2003 and now operates in 20 countries.

A Chicago-based company, LifeGem, has been offering a similar service.

For what is believed to be the first time in Singapore, SFS is offering this service in partnership with Algordanza.

Cost will range between $6,999 for a 0.25-carat diamond and $33,999 for a 1-carat diamond.

The waiting period will range from three months to a year.

'Our society is now at a stage where we want the finer things in life - even until the last step,' said Mr Hoo.

But it's not about being extravagant, he explained. It's about moving with the times.

'Many people feel guilty when they have a tablet or an urn for their parents, because they're not sure the future generations will continue to visit it,' said Mr Hoo.

'If you have a ring, you can pass it down from generation to generation. Your loved one will be with you every minute, every second.'

Preserve memories

Many families these days also have members living in different countries, he pointed out. 'They may not be able to come back every year to pay their respects. Making a diamond helps them preserve the memories,' said Mr Hoo.

In a land-scarce Singapore, it also encourages cremation, 'in line with government policy'.

'People already associate diamonds with love and eternity. For a widow, for example, it can provide a lot of comfort,' said Mr Hoo.

Singaporeans, however, may need a bit more convincing.

'We should just let the dead rest in peace,' said 37-year-old manager Yvonne Wong.

Miss Pearl Chia, a 46-year-old manager, wonders what will happen if future generations run into financial difficulties.

'What if they pawn off Grandpa?' she asked.

But diamonds, however they come, retain their allure for some.

'I don't mind a diamond, real or otherwise,' gushed Stacey Kelly, a 20-year-old student. 'It will give family heirlom a new meaning.'

Mr Raymond Xiao, a 69-year-old retiree, doesn't mind being turned into a diamond.

'It is a good idea to recycle, so to speak,' he said.

'People will get used to the idea. Look at Bishan. It used to be a cemetery. Now, it's a HDB estate.'

Leaders from Singapore's two main religions were not keen on the idea.

Mr Lee Bock Guan, president of the Singapore Buddhist Lodge, said that 'there is nothing in Buddhism that forbids this'.

'But if you have the ring, people may not want to shake your hand. It may not be nice to wear it to someone's wedding,' he said. 'Worse still, what if you lose it?'

Rev Dr Daniel Koh, an ordained minister of the Methodist Church of Singapore, said in his personal capacity: 'It does not seem to gel with the Christian faith at all.

'It may be better to remember a loved one through the lessons they taught us. It is things like these, not diamonds, which last forever.'

Fellow undertakers also have their doubts.

'Singaporeans may feel uneasy about passing on the remains of their loves ones to strangers halfway across the world,' said Mr Roland Tay, 62, the director of Direct Singapore Funeral Services.

Mr Darren Tan, 31, the operations manager of a memorial services firm, worries that the diamonds may have a reverse effect, making it hard for mourners to find closure, especially in cases where the death occurred unexpectedly.

'I don't think it will be popular in an Asian society,' he said.

1. An average person leaves behind 2kg in ash after cremation. 500g of this is sent by air to the Swiss Alps, where the headquarters of Algordanza is located.

2. Upon arrival, the ash is marked with a serial number to prevent any mix-up.

3. The ash undergoes an analysis in the lab to determine its chemical composition.

4. Potassium and calcium, which make up 85 per cent of the ash, are extracted from the carbon using strong acids.

5. The remaining carbon is compressed into graphite under high pressure and temperature. Waste gases are generated and removed immediately.

6. A tiny diamond is added into the graphite. Crystalisation takes place around it and the diamond grows in size. The duration of the crystalisation depends on the size of the diamond desired. It can last anything from three months to a year. When the desired size is reached, the diamond introduced at the start of the process is cut off.

7. The remaining chunk of diamond is cut and polished. Engraving can be done upon request.

8. Your loved one comes home as a precious stone - accompanied by a certificate from the Gemological Institute of America listing his cut, carat, clarity and colour.

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