Water-Based Cremation, also referred to as “Aquamation”, is becoming a more and more popular method of cremation for pets. Over the years, I have seen many examples of Aquamation, and like any technology, some changes have been implemented in the process. In California, water-based cremation was just approved for Humans in October of 2019 and before was mainly used in the cremation of pets. It has been approved in a small number of other states as well. Over time, I have also seen some changes in the color and consistency of the ashes that are produced using this method. Below, I will give an overview of both the process as I understand it, the results of Aquamation, and the effect it has on the setting process for my pieces.
Water-Based Cremation is said to be a more eco-friendly and natural way to break down an organism to obtain “ashes”. Many Funeral Homes with explain it by saying simply that is speeds up the natural process a body will go through while it is being broken down. For example, it mimics the process you would see if a loved one was buried rather than cremated. Because there is no fire involved, it releases less smoke into the air and therefore produces less toxins. Here is what livescience.com had to say to explain the process:
“To "water cremate" remains, the body is placed in a pressurized steel chamber filled with an alkaline solution that's 95 percent water and 5 percent potassium hydroxide, according to the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Minnesota. The chamber is then heated to around 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius), significantly lower than the 1,600 to 1,800 degrees F (871 to 982 degrees C) needed to cremate a body in fire, the Funeral Consumers Alliance says.
Though the process might seem grotesque, it's similar to the natural processes that occur in the body after death, the Mayo Clinic says. Water cremation converts the body's tissues and cells into a watery solution of molecules — in other words, it dissolves the body — leaving behind just the bones. The combination of the alkaline solution, pressure and heat speeds up what could take more than two decades to occur naturally after a body is buried, the Funeral Consumers Alliance says.
After the body has been dissolved, the remaining bones are crushed into ash and returned to the family, much like the remains are returned after cremation, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Matt Baskerville, an Illinois funeral director, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the consistency of these ashes is akin to that of ivory-colored powdered sugar, as opposed to the dense and coarse texture of ashes recovered after a flame cremation.”
The ashes that come from Aquamation are indeed as described above: a powdered-sugar-looking substance that is very light and soft. The color can be ivory and at first glance appear to be white, but, in actuality, a lot of the water- based remains that I see have a yellow or green cast to them.
Processing these ashes for setting in my pieces is be done in the same way that ashes obtained through traditional cremation are prepared and the result for me is almost the same aside from the color and texture of the material while it is dry. Traditionally cremated ashes are coarse and dense and are often a tone of grey or beige. They are also, for lack of a better term, quite “chunky” as they do have bits of bone that were not broken-down during cremation throughout.
Although the process is performed in the same manner for all settings, regardless of the way the ashes were obtained, the final look of the settings can differ greatly from the examples in listings on my website. Because Aquamation is a relatively new technology and has just been approved for use with humans, I do not have any examples posted of what this may look like. However, the photo of the ring you see on this blog has a setting that was made using water-based cremation ashes.
As represented in the piece posted here, usually the setting will have a brighter yellow or greenish tint. These colors are impossible to mimic using traditionally cremated ashes and this will be the easiest way to tell the difference. In addition to this, I am also unable to set a design into these pieces due to the consistency and weight of the ashes. The way they react and mix with the solution I use for setting pieces is very different than traditionally obtained ashes, as these are coarser and denser. Because of this, some of my clients who have Aquamated ashes do opt to add color to their pieces to mimic the swirl designs you see in the listings on my shop. I have found that more neutral and earthy tones compliment these ashes well and often have requests for white, black, and brown to be added. Of course, this color will not cover or completely overpower the setting as my jewelry does make a point of using the natural color of the ashes in settings, but it can help to accentuate the piece and add some depth to it as well.
This shows just how much has and can change to a technology that has been used for centuries. Scientists and Medical Experts are always looking for new details and processes that can help us have a little less impact on the environment while we are honoring loved ones that have passed away. I have no doubt that as we progress, more and more will be possible not only in the arena of medicine, but also in the way that we are able to mourn our loved ones.