Imagine discovering the world’s largest diamond, the Cullinan

Imagine you’re busy with a routine inspection through a mine in the early 1900’s when something shiny catches your eye. You look over only to discover that the shiny object is indeed a diamond as large as your fist. What would you do? Well, this is what happened to the superintendent, Frederick Wells when he was walking through the Premier Mine in South Africa.

Sir Thomas Cullinan at Premier Mine,

Sir Thomas Cullinan at Premier Mine, South Africa in 1905

On 26 January, 1905 during his routine inspection Frederick made an unexpected discovery changing the world of diamonds. It was on this historical day that he discovered the world’s biggest diamond. The diamond was then named the Cullinan after the owner of the mine, Sir Thomas Cullinan, who was visiting the mine on that particular day. A replica of this marvel can be seen at the Cape Town Diamond Museum. But, what happened to this rough diamond and where can one find the famous Cullinan diamond today?

After Frederick had made the discovery, the large Cullinan rough diamond was taken to the mine office to be weighed. To everyone’s surprise, the stone weighed in at a whopping 3 106 carats, making it the largest diamond ever to be found. Many experts believe that the Cullinan diamond was only a fragment of an even bigger stone that still needed to be discovered. This rumour caused sparks amongst the mining community, who hoped to find the other half of the stone.

The magnificent diamond was insured for R17 million before it was carefully transported to England. Here a Premier London agent named, Sigismund Neumann kept the large diamond for safe keeping. When they transported the large diamond, they had to take extreme measures to keep it safe. The Cullinan was sent in a plain box via parcel post while detectives from London were asked to transport a replica as a decoy publically. After the Anglo-Boer War, the Transvaal government bought the diamond for R2.4 million. The Cullinan was then presented to King Edward VII of the United Kingdom as a gift of goodwill on his 66th birthday in 1907.

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The Cullinan diamond was presented to King Edward VII

The diamond was then entrusted to I. J. Asscher and Co where it was divided in various large stones. When the famous diamond cutter received the large diamond, he studied it for months. At first, it was difficult to cut the Cullinan, but after months of careful planning, Asscher divided the diamond into nine major stones, ninety-six smaller stones and about 19.5 carats of unpolished diamonds. The two largest diamonds weighing 1 977 carats and 1 040 carats respectively in the rough.

The two larger diamonds, known as the Cullinan I and Cullinan II, were given to King Edward VII. The polished Cullinan I (530.20 carats) is the biggest stone of the nine diamonds and the polished Cullinan II (317.40 carats) the second most significant. Today the stone is also referred to as The Star of Africa (Cullinan I) and The Lesser Star of Africa (Cullinan II). Discover these and more famous diamonds here.

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The Cullinan I diamond, also known as the Star of Africa

Both of these breathtakingly beautiful stones are on display in the Tower of London as part of the Crown Jewels. The Cullinan III is pear-shaped and weighs 94.40 carats. The diamond was originally an ornament on top of Queen Mary’s Crown. Today Queen Elizabeth II can be seen wearing the Cullinan IV as a pendant-brooch.

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The Cullinan III and Cullinan IV

The Cullinan IV is a cushion shape diamond that weighs 63.60 carats. The stone was previously placed in the band of Queen Mary’s crown, but today it can be seen as the top part of Queen Elizabeth II’s pendant-brooch (as discussed above).

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The Cullinan V worn as a brooch by Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth II

The Cullinan V is a triangular-pear shaped diamond and weighs 18.80 carats. First, it was worn as a brooch by Queen Mary but was then later used in the circlet of her crown as a substitute for the Koh-i-Noor (a famous colourless diamond that was found near Guntur, India). The Koh-i-Noor was utilised in the new crown for Queen Elizabeth in 1937. Today Queen Elizabeth II can be seen wearing it as a brooch.

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The two largest Cullinan diamonds mounted in the Royal Regalia

The large Cullinan diamond that was discovered back in the 1900’s has indeed become part of history. Not only is it the largest gem-quality diamond ever discovered, but it’s also part of the world’s most classic jewellery pieces. The Cullinan, in essence, is remarkable and will continue to amaze throughout history. To witness the marvel in real-life come down to the Cape Town Diamond Museum and see a replica of the Cullinan rough diamond. The diamond museum is open seven days a week from 9am – 9pm.