Days after Florian Oger was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given six months to live, his wife met Adelle Archer, the co-founder of an Austin, Texas, startup that turns cremated ashes into diamonds.
Rather than be buried, Oger would become a diamond.
“He said: ’Take me on your adventures with you,’” his wife Renee Rouleau, 49, told the Austin American-Statesman. “We were all onboard with the idea. We loved it because, first and foremost, that was his wish.”
The Austin-based family met with Archer, the 28-year-old co-founder of Eterneva, to discuss different colors and shapes for the lab-grown diamonds.
Eterneva, founded in 2017 by Archer and Garrett Ozar, extracts carbon from roughly half a cup of ashes and then puts the purified carbon through an extreme pressure and heat environment to grow each diamond. It’s one of a handful of companies worldwide that offer the service.
The company has made more than 200 diamonds for family members and pets, but Archer said her consultation with Oger marked the first time she’s met with someone about their end-of-life plans before they died.
“We all got to sit down together, and I told Florian: ‘Well, Florian, what color are you?’” Archer remembered, adding that he chose black for his son and green for his daughter because they were his car-racing colors.
His wife Rouleau chose a green diamond because he was “a green kind of guy,” who served in the military and collected old, Army-green military cars.
That personalization is the same for every customer, Archer said.
“There’s always a personal touch that comes with everything,” Archer said. “A huge part of the way we think about our company is you don’t do a diamond for an average person. This is a really amazing and remarkable person.”
‘I am very much our customer’
Eterneva’s emphasis toward customization is a personal one.
As Archer was getting into the lab-grown diamond business, her close friend and business mentor, Tracey Kaufman, died.
“I was researching online and not finding anything that, I guess, felt special enough for her and that really resonated with me,” Archer said.
A dinner with a scientist changed that. He mentioned off-hand that it was possible to extract carbon from ashes and grow a diamond.
“I was like, ’I would 100 percent do this for Tracey,’” Archer said. “I need to figure this out.”
That’s how one of Eterneva’s first clients became Archer herself. The company, which creates diamonds ranging from $2,400 to $20,000, made a black diamond emerald cut with Kaufman’s ashes.
Archer had the diamond set in a ring surrounded by smaller diamonds. Later, she had a yellow diamond necklace made in honor of her grandma.
“I very much am our customer,” she said. “I think it really helped us put ourselves in their shoes in a way that, if we didn’t go through a loss, we wouldn’t have been able to.”
An underserved market
From a business perspective, founding a company that focused on end-of-life decisions made sense, said Archer.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the country’s death care industry generated $14.2 billion in revenue in 2016, the latest figures available. The death care industry includes funeral services, internment and memorials.
Meanwhile, cremation rates in the U.S. have skyrocketed for years. The Cremation Association of North America found that 51.6 percent of Americans were cremated and that number is expected to rise to 57.8 percent by 2022.
“From an investor angle, this is a big market, and it’s very underserved,” Archer said.
Eterneva is “bootstrapped,” or self-funded, and has six employees, but Archer expects the company to expand its employee headcount and obtain outside funding in 2019. The company currently uses a carbon purification facility in Pennsylvania and grows its diamonds in Germany, but Archer said the company will bring some of those operations in-house soon.
Archer did not disclose Eterneva’s 2018 revenue, but said the company achieved seven figures, or more than $1 million, in sales. The average Eterneva customer spends around $9,000.
She told Inc. magazine in April that the company did $280,000 in sales in 2017 and projected $2 million for 2018.
And although cremations have made headlines for emitting harmful greenhouse gases, Archer isn’t worried about her business. Eterneva can also make diamonds with hair or ashes created through aquamation — a cremation process that uses a water solution to break down remains.
“People are just so hungry for better options and for more special and personalized ways to honor their loved ones,” Archer said. “I think there’s a lot of opportunity for innovation and it’s such an untouched space.”
‘I’ll have him back again’
Rouleau, whose husband died in November from bile duct cancer, will receive her diamond from Eterneva in roughly four months.
Until then, she receives monthly emails from Archer throughout the 8-month process. When the diamond is hand-delivered to her, the family will receive a personalized video that shows the diamond-making process from start to finish.
Rouleau, an entrepreneur herself, runs her own skin care company used by celebrities like Demi Lovato, Patrick Dempsey and Anna Faris. Her husband, Oger, was the company’s chief operating officer.
“He was somebody that really lived life,” she said. “That’s where he felt a lot of peace — as much as one can find peace with dying — he felt he had really lived.”
Rouleau plans to work with a jeweler to turn her diamond into a necklace.
“I think the concept of getting the diamond is I’ll feel I’ll have him back again, and that’s a really good feeling,” she said. “I feel like he’s coming back and I’m looking forward to that.”