From Ashes to Diamonds

Making Lab-grown Afterlife

Keywords: memorial diamonds, synthetic, death, value, materiality


This article examines the making and makers of “memorial diamonds.” These are “natural” diamonds identical to gemstones found in nature but produced in laboratories with carbon sourced from genetic material (cremation ashes) or other objects of symbolic and emotional value. Threading corporality and objectified life forms, we examine the transformation from ashes to the “afterlife” of these “living” objects that are at once synthetic and organic. We ask, first, what material and affective properties distinguish synthetic diamonds from those extracted from nature? Second, how are these living and memorialized representations of inert substances – in continuity with bodily elements of the deceased – valued and mediated through “real” human, though artificially grown, natural objects? Drawing from research with the leading companies in the memorial diamond business in Switzerland and the United States, this article suggests that these diamonds’ singular connection to the human body offer a window into the transmutations between nature and the artificial, memory and material likeness, life and death.

Author Biographies

Filipe Calvão, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva

Filipe Calvão is an associate professor in anthropology and sociology at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID). His research examines extractive industries in postcolonial Africa, materiality and labor, and digital economies in the Global South.

Lindsay Bell, University of Western Ontario

Lindsay Bell is an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Western, Ontario in Canada. Situated at the intersection of linguistic and cultural anthropology, her research has largely focused on extractive industries in arctic countries.

How to Cite
Calvão, Filipe, and Lindsay Bell. 2021. “From Ashes to Diamonds: Making Lab-Grown Afterlife”. TSANTSA – Journal of the Swiss Anthropological Association 26 (June):122-38.