A Swiss company wants to change the way people mourn by transforming the remains of their loved ones into gems.
“When a man of 80 kilos is cremated, he becomes 2.5 kilos of ashes,” Rinaldo Willy explained. “With these ashes, we make a diamond of 0.2 grams, smaller than a button on your shirt. How heavy is the soul—if we have a soul?”
In its coupling of the tangible and intangible, it is a question that epitomizes Willy’s work. Every year, Algordanza, the company he founded in 2004, receives more than 800 urns filled with human ashes. For between $5,000 and $20,000, the contents of each parcel are transformed into a diamond.
It is also more than a diamond. “Maybe ‘soul’ is too strong of a word,” Willy continued, still struggling to define the essence of his product. “Our process is purely physical—but if the deceased had blue eyes, and the diamond turns out blue, you can be sure that the family will say, ‘Oh, it’s exactly the color of his eyes.’”
We were sitting on the cool leather couches of Algordanza’s simple reception room in the sleepy town of Chur, Switzerland. Tucked away high in the Alps, the town seems isolated, and yet events as diverse as the Indian Ocean tsunami, the Chilean earthquake, the Fukushima meltdown, and the terror bombings in Madrid have all sent ripples through Algordanza’s halls. Within weeks of a major incident the parcels begin to arrive. “We had a British soldier from Afghanistan recently,” Willy mentioned. “He came home and then he came to us. His body—not him, of course.”
The route from the train station in Chur to the company’s facility passes through medieval cobblestone streets, a golf course, and wildflower fields. It is a journey that many grieving clients make. “We ask that the family either brings the ashes or picks up the diamond in person,” explained Willy, 34.
“For us, it’s important that they see who the people taking care of their loved ones are.” The pilgrimage to Chur is just one part of a choreography that Willy has designed around the six-month gem-making process. As one of the first companies to enter the memorial diamond business a decade ago, Algordanza, whose name means “remembrance” in the local Romansh language, has developed a tradition all its own.
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