Laura Potter

All work © 1997-2015

Burn with me

I am fascinated by the etiquette of inheritance, and how possessions are dispersed after death. Legally speaking, any item sent into a crematorium furnace has been abandoned; it doesn’t belong to the deceased - how could it? - and it doesn’t belong to the relatives because they abandoned it.

Any metals need to be removed from the cremated remains before cremulation: a process which reduces the larger fragments to sand-like grains. If a body is cremated with gold or silver jewellery, the metal melts and is dispersed as tiny blobs throughout the remains. This makes it impossible to separate out the metal. But some metals will remain intact as larger, identifiable structures (such as joint replacements and pacemakers). It is the responsibility of the crematorium to deal with such material in an appropriate manner and in the case of metals this means recycling. However, relatives may opt-out of the metals recycling scheme, in which case any metals recovered after the cremation process may be handed over to them instead.

What if you could wear something that would survive the cremation process, and then hand it on to a relative? I figure that if the deceased wears an item of jewellery made from a metal with an extremely high melting point, it stands a chance of surviving the cremation process intact. Cremation occurs at temperatures around 800°C to 1000°C. Theoretically platinum would be fine because its melting point is around 1700°C, but I wanted a metal with as high a melting point as possible. The metal with the highest melting point (as far as anyone knows) is pure tungsten, and its workable alloy tungsten carbide melts at a whopping 2870°C.

At this point I discovered that tungsten carbide is already being used in jewellery, mainly for men’s rings. It’s not particularly pretty and it is unfeasibly tough, so I guess people figure it’s a masculine metal. I decided to appropriate an existing object and service, for my own aims.

I ordered a size 6 (UK M) 8mm domed tungsten (carbide) ring with “Laura Jane Potter” engraved on the inside. If I am cremated this ring will come with me, and hopefully be retrieved by my relatives on the ‘other side’.

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