EVERYONE said she was a gem. Now, just eight ounces of cremated remains is all it takes to turn your mother into a diamond.
In fact, there is enough carbon in those ashes to make about 20 gems. And there will still be several pounds of ashes left over to display on the mantelpiece.
So far, nobodys ordered more than 11 diamonds, said Dean VandenBiesen, vice president of operations for LifeGem, which uses super-hot ovens to transform ashes to graphite and then presses the stone into blue and yellow diamonds that retail for anywhere from 2,700 to 20,000 dollars.
"Its not for everyone," VandenBiesen admitted, adding that for those who do chose to immortalize their loved ones in jewelry, the experience is extremely positive.
"We have people that approach us who have just experienced a tragedy and they say I cant wait, Im so excited about this," he said. "In the field of death care, when someone says Im really excited about this, I think weve achieved what we wanted to do which is change the culture of death."
The success of LifeGem is just one example of a radical shift in the funeral industry, said Mark Musgrove, immediate past president of the National Funeral Directors Association.
Americans are moving away from traditional funerals and are seeking instead less somber occasions that reflect the personality of the deceased. They are also looking for alternative ways to remember their loved ones.
While a decline in religiosity has contributed to the shift, Musgrove said its mainly a reflection of a cultural phenomenon.
"Back in the 60s the baby boomers were getting married in scuba gear," he said. "Theyre getting older and they have the same individualism."
A quick stroll through the exhibition hall of associations annual conference shows just how far the 11-billion dollar US funeral home industry has moved towards "personalization."
Jeff Barrette is leaning on a maroon motorcycle, his leather vest and scull and crossbones bandana a striking change from the dark suits of most of his customers.
Displayed in his booth are urns made out of the engine cylinders of Harley Davidsons and mounted on stands with epitaphs like "Riders Last Rest," which doubles as the companys name.
"It holds 270 cubic inches -- you could fit a big guy in there," Barrette told a potential customer, before explaining that the urns carrying case is specially constructed to fit on the back of a bike in case "you want to take your buddy for a ride."
Demand for the 1,350 dollar hand-made urns has been slow, Barrette said, but thats to be expected in a niche market.
Memorial videos and websites, however, are a bustling business, said Joe Joachim, president of funeralOne, who has signed up 1,500 funeral homes in the past five months.
"Our ultimate goal is creating the ultimate funeral experience," Joachim said. "We want to make this a celebration of life and take it to the next level."
FuneralOne offers software that allows funeral homes to help families create videos, burn them onto DVDs and even make personalized brochures and websites. It also offers webcasting services so people who cant make the funeral can watch online.
The two-and-a-half-year-old company has recently partnered with another firm which makes solar-powered video screens that can be mounted on a tombstone and play a 5 to 10 minute tribute.
The 7-inch (18 cm) serenity panels will hit the market in January and Vidstone and chief executive officer Sergio Aguirre said he expects to sell up to 100,000 in the first year. "Everyone has a story to tell, and what better way than to share it?" he said.