On January 25, 1905, at the Premier Mine in Pretoria, South Africa, the largest diamond ever found was discovered.  It was given the name, the “Cullinan,” after the mine owner Sir thomas Cullinan and it was 3,106-carats, weighed 1.33 pounds.

Photo of the Cullinan diamond the largest gem quality diamond ever found, in its rough form. It is 3,106.75 carats (621.35 g, 1.37 lb), about 10 cm (3.9 inches) tall in its longest dimension. It was found January 26, 1905 in the Premier mine, near Pretoria, South Africa "Cullinan diamond rough" by Unknown - Downloaded 2013-02-11 from Julius Wodiska (1909) A Book of Precious Stones, 2nd Ed., G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York, p. 46 on Google Books. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cullinan_diamond_rough.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Cullinan_diamond_rough.jpg

Photo of the Cullinan diamond the largest gem quality diamond ever found, in its rough form. It is 3,106.75 carats (621.35 g, 1.37 lb), about 10 cm (3.9 inches) tall in its longest dimension. It was found January 26, 1905 in the Premier mine, near Pretoria, South Africa “Cullinan diamond rough” by Unknown – Downloaded 2013-02-11 from Julius Wodiska (1909) A Book of Precious Stones, 2nd Ed., G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, p. 46 on Google Books. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cullinan_diamond_rough.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Cullinan_diamond_rough.jpg

Frederick Wells, the mine’s superintendent was 18 feet below the earth’s surface when he spotted a flash of starlight embedded in the wall just above him. Afterwards, Cullinan sold the diamond to the Transvaal provincial government, which presented the stone to Britain’s King Edward VII as a birthday gift. With a fear of theft, King Edward arranged to send a phony diamond aboard a steamer ship loaded with detectives as a diversionary tactic. While the decoy slowly made its way from Africa on the ship, the Cullinan was sent to England in a plain box.

Publicity photo of the Cullinan crystal being handed from Fred Wells (right) to McHardy, who then hands it to Sir Thomas Cullinan (left).

Publicity photo of the Cullinan crystal being handed from Fred Wells (right) to McHardy, who then hands it to Sir Thomas Cullinan (left).

Joseph Asscher, head of the Asscher Diamond Company of Amsterdam was given the task of cutting the diamond. Famous for his cut of the famous Excelsior Diamond, a 971-carat diamond found in 1893, he studied this new stone for six months before attempting the cut. On his first attempt, the steel blade broke, with no effect on the diamond. On the second attempt, the diamond shattered exactly as planned.  Overwhelmed, Asscher fainted from nervous exhaustion.

The Cullinan was later cut into nine large stones and about 100 smaller ones, valued at millions of dollars.   Among these are:

  • Star of Africa I, or Cullinan I, 530 carats, the largest-cut fine-quality colorless diamond in the world, mounted in the British Sovereign’s Royal Scepter.
Royal Sceptre with Star of Africa

Royal Sceptre with Star of Africa

  • Star of Africa II or Cullinan II, 317 carats, the second largest stone, sits in the Imperial State Crown.
Version of the Imperial State Crown worn by George V, front view, showing the Black Prince's Ruby and the Second Star of Africa "ImperialStateCrown". Via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ImperialStateCrown.jpg#mediaviewer/File:ImperialStateCrown.jpg

Version of the Imperial State Crown worn by George V, front view, showing the Black Prince’s Ruby and the Second Star of Africa “ImperialStateCrown”. Via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ImperialStateCrown.jpg#mediaviewer/File:ImperialStateCrown.jpg

 These, along with the Cullinan III are on display in the Tower of London among Great Britain’s other crown jewels.

"King George VI" by Sir Gerald Kelly (1879-1972) - Royal Collection object 403422. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:King_George_VI.jpg#mediaviewer/File:King_George_VI.jpg

“King George VI” by Sir Gerald Kelly (1879-1972) – Royal Collection object 403422. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:King_George_VI.jpg#mediaviewer/File:King_George_VI.jpg

"Cullinan Diamond and some of its cuts - copy" by Chris 73 / Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cullinan_Diamond_and_some_of_its_cuts_-_copy.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Cullinan_Diamond_and_some_of_its_cuts_-_copy.jpg

“Cullinan Diamond and some of its cuts – copy” by Chris 73 / Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cullinan_Diamond_and_some_of_its_cuts_-_copy.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Cullinan_Diamond_and_some_of_its_cuts_-_copy.jpg

Premier Mine, South Africa, before 1903

Premier Mine, South Africa, before 1903

 

 

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6 responses

  1. Birgit says:

    Holy moly! I knew about the famous diamonds in the crown and sceptre but I didn’t realize the history. Thanks for talking about it

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  2. Back then we didn’t have to worry if it was treated, or synthesised. But what about simulants?

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