Ashes to Art
Leno can laugh, but for Dieterle, 59, baubles for the bereaved are serious business. "The pendants," says the Aurora, Ill., mortician—-whose parents owned a funeral parlor—"are a way for families to fulfill the need for a personalized keepsake."
Sold only through funeral homes, the necklaces range in price from $1,995 for a 14-karat gold cylinder to $10,000 for a heart-shaped pendant trimmed with 1.20-carat diamond baguettes. "Some people find them very comforting," says Paul Horvath, general manager of the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel in New York City, the first among dozens expected to carry the line in the next few months. "It's another option we're offering families selecting cremation."
In fact, the trend toward cremation—about 20 percent of Americans now choose it over burial, which often costs much more—is what inspired Dieterle. Thinking of ways to increase revenue, he broached the pendant idea to his friend Lester Lampert, 56, a Chicago jeweler. "At first I thought it was morbid," admits Lampert, who wound up designing the 15-item line. "But I realized I make many lockets for people who want them for a photo of a deceased loved one."
Dieterle, married and the father of three, has so far sold only 100 of his rather pricey pendants. Still, Lampert believes they've found a winner. "This jewelry," he says, "is to die for."