Shayla Mansfield gets a lot of compliments on her diamond engagement ring. She always has the same response when she does. “Thank you, it’s actually my mother’s ashes,” said Mansfield, 29, who lives in Viera, Florida, and works for Vivint, a home security system provider.
The bride-to-be’s mother, Shirley Mansfield, died Dec. 29, 2017, at age 58 from acute myeloid leukaemia. Shayla Mansfield’s longtime boyfriend, Paul Vasso, 30, who works for Vivint as a field service professional and is father to their children, Jaxson, 6, and Weston, 6 weeks, had been planning a proposal for some time. Shortly after his girlfriend’s mother died, Vasso saw a Facebook post that a friend shared about turning the ashes of loved ones into a diamond.
This prompted him to mail some of Mansfield’s mother’s ashes to Eterneva, a company based in Austin, Texas, that creates lab-grown diamonds out of the carbon from human remains. The ashes would soon become the center stone of her ring. “Shayla had no idea,” said Vasso, adding that he had asked her family’s permission to use some of remains for the ring.
Adelle Archer, 28, a founder of Eterneva, which started in 2017, said the company has helped other couples transform the ashes of loved ones. “People say diamonds are forever and they’re the symbol of love and permanence,” she said. “How much more meaningful could it get than to have somebody that you hold dear, that can’t be there on your wedding day, to get to be part of that commitment that you make?”
Lab-grown diamonds are becoming more mainstream. Last year, the diamond behemoth De Beers, which operates mines worldwide, opened a lab-grown subsidiary, Lightbox, which offers synthetic jewellery at significantly lower prices. (De Beers does not produce diamonds from ashes.)
The recent interest in lab-grown diamonds, plus the growing knowledge that they can be grown from ashes, has inspired more couples in the market for engagement rings to commission their wedding diamonds to be made from their relatives’ remains.
All these changes within the industry have inspired more couples in the market for engagement rings to commission their wedding diamonds to be made from their relatives’ remains.
Alexis Dunham, 23, a nursing student from Newbury Park, California, lost her brother, Jake Dunham, 21, in 2018 in the Borderline bar shooting in Thousand Oaks, California. To honour his memory, she and her fiancé, Kaden Golden, a 23-year-old construction worker, are designing an engagement ring with a clear three-quarter-carat diamond grown from his ashes.
“My brother and I were really close and then when I started bringing my boyfriend around, they would take off half the time and go hang out,” Dunham said.
Creating diamonds from ashes makes perfect sense to David Kessler, 60, the founder of Grief.com, a resource site that offers help for those experiencing grief. “It’s obviously not unusual for wedding rings to get handed down through generations. So this is sort of a newer way of including those who aren’t here anymore in that celebration,” he said.
LifeGem, which is based in Des Plaines, Illinois, began its ashes-to-diamonds operation in 2002. Dean VandenBiesen, 56, a company founder, said he is proud he is able to provide a personal way to pay homage to a loved one. “It brings a measure of comfort, which I think is kind of a big deal in a very difficult time,” he said.
LifeGem’s showroom allows people a chance to learn more about the process. It involves using extreme heat in a vacuum induction furnace to convert the carbon material to graphite. The graphite is then placed into a diamond press that mimics the forces deep within the Earth and allows diamond crystals to form.
“It’s kind of an interesting place where people can come and bring the material from their loved ones and they can have a little celebration of life here,” VandenBiesen said. His clients also can take the edge off their emotions with a microbrew from Fibs Brewing Co., which is also on the premises.
Only a relatively small amount of ashes are required to grow a diamond. Archer of Eterneva says a typical cremation will yield 8 to 10 cups and that a half-cup can generate “at least a couple of grams of carbon,” more than enough to yield multiple diamonds. Eterneva sends back any unused ashes to customers or will store a loved one’s remains on site for an indefinite time in case the need to create a replacement diamond ever arises.
Because the diamonds are grown one at a time, and come in a variety of colours, they can be pricey. For $2,490, Eterneva’s clients will get a 0.1- to 0.19-carat accent diamond. It’s $20,199 for a black diamond 1.0 to 1.24 carats; this is the most expensive and difficult to produce of all the colours, according to Archer. LifeGem’s top-tier diamonds are $24,999 for a 1.5-carat red or green variety.
Heart in Diamond, a British company with offices in Los Angeles, says it can grow in house an orange, yellow, green, or red diamond in 90 days and that in four months a white or blue diamond can be completed. But some companies, like Eterneva, which outsources this process overseas, may require seven to 10 months for production.
“We’re individually growing each diamond one at a time in their own machine,” Archer said. “So our scientists are having to fine-tune our machines every time to someone’s unique characteristics of their carbon.”
Once the diamonds are done, she said, the lab inspects each one to make sure it was able to produce the size that a customer ordered and a product free of visible inclusions. The diamonds are graded and certified and, if a customer likes, laser engraved with the name of the deceased.
Ashes aren’t the only carbon-containing material that can be transformed into a diamond. “We’ve seen couples do it with their own hair, dog fur, even parrot feathers,” said Anastasia Formenti, 28, operations manager at Heart in Diamond.
Emilio Perez, 52, a video editor in Powder Springs, Georgia, didn’t have enough ashes from his grandmother, Rosa Reveron, who died in 2002 at age 96. So he sent Heart in Diamond a mix of his hair, and the hair of his partner, Kim Christopher, 52, a chemist, along with a small amount of his grandmother’s ashes that he had been storing.
The couple married “on an impulse,” he said, in October 2018 without rings. But after finding out about Heart in Diamond, Perez sent his family’s carbon to the company and received his finished diamonds four months later. They are now having their wedding bands custom made and fitted with the speciality stones.
Meesha Kaufman, 36, of Baltimore, is known among her friends and family (and her boyfriend, Tony Torres, 36, who owns a local gym with her) to be particularly obsessed with her dog, a 5-year-old longhaired Chihuahua named Bruce Wayne. She is having her engagement ring diamond created from a cup of his fur, which a groomer retrieved during a recent styling session.
Her friends and family were not surprised. “They do kind of laugh when they find out that I’m not including my boyfriend’s hair into it as well, though,” she said. “It’s strictly Bruce Wayne’s.”
Vasso proposed to Mansfield Feb. 26, 2018, in Lake Eola Park in Orlando, Florida. The ashes diamond was delayed and he didn’t want to miss his moment, so he had Eterneva set the ring with a temporary cubic zirconia stone.
On April 5, 2019, Vasso told his bride to be that he needed to get her ring cleaned and took it to a local jeweller, which Eterneva had commissioned to switch out the stone. Later that day, Archer and her team showed up at the couple’s house to surprise Mansfield with her ring, which was now set with the lab-grown diamond.
Upon finding out that her new stone was crafted from her mother’s remains, Mansfield was speechless. She’s still trying to figure out if she’s more shocked about the endearing gesture from her fiancé or the fact that she wore a ring on her finger outfitted with a fake diamond for more than a year.
The wedding is planned for May 2, 2020, in Turks and Caicos. Mansfield is thrilled to have her mother be a part of the big day. And the future bride says her mother would have absolutely approved of being transformed into a diamond.
“She sparkled everywhere she went and she was just a bright light,” she said, “so I think that this is actually the only way to do her justice.”