The Cullinan Diamond
The Cullinan Diamond is the largest gem-quality rough diamond ever found, weighing 3,106.75 carats (621.35 g), discovered at the Premier No. 2 mine in Cullinan, South Africa, on 26 January 1905. It was named after Thomas Cullinan, the mine’s chairman.
In April 1905, the Cullinan was put on sale in London, but despite considerable interest, it was still unsold after two years. In 1907 the Transvaal Colony government bought the Cullinan and presented it to King Edward VII on his 66th birthday.
Cullinan produced stones of various cuts and sizes, the largest of which is named Cullinan I or the Great Star of Africa, and at 530.4 carats (106.08 g) it is the largest clear-cut diamond in the world. Cullinan I is mounted in the head of the Sovereign’s Scepter with Cross. The second-largest is Cullinan II or the Second Star of Africa, weighing 317.4 carats (63.48 g), mounted in the Imperial State Crown. Both diamonds are part of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom.
Seven other major diamonds, weighing a total of 208.29 carats (41.66 g), are privately owned by Queen Elizabeth II, who inherited them from her grandmother, Queen Mary, in 1953. The Queen also owns minor brilliants and a set of unpolished fragments.
The Transvaal government bought the rough diamond from the mine for 150,000 pounds. Transvaal Prime Minister Louis Botha’s proposal to give the Cullinan to King Edward VII was approved by the Transvaal Parliament and the rough diamond was accepted by the King in a 66th birthday presentation on 9th November 1907. It must be remembered that this was a period very shortly after the Boer War which had led to much bitterness between the Boers and the British. It was thought that this gesture might help reconcile the two sides to a certain extent.
Transporting it from South Africa to England caused much anxiety to the authorities. In a novel plan, detectives from London were placed on a steamboat that was rumoured to carry the stone. The stone on that ship was actually a fake, meant to attract those who would be interested in stealing it. The actual diamond was sent to England in a plain box via parcel post, albeit registered!
The British authorities awarded the Amsterdam firm of I. J. Asscher and Company the order to cut the stone. Mr. Joseph Asscher, the firm’s principal, studied the stone for three months, assessing the stress fault and the optimum facets on which to cut. His first strike broke the cutter blade, mercifully with no damage to the diamond. His second stroke was perfect and split the stone as planned along the fault line. It was reported that Mijnheer Asscher promptly fainted with relief, though this account of events is disputed! The two stones were then further cleaved into nine major stones plus a large number of smaller stones.
You can see a collection of replica cut stones against a replica of the uncut stone here
The nine originals are classed as Flawless and form part of the British Crown Jewels, with the 530 carat ‘Star of Africa’ topping the Sovereign’s Royal Sceptre. It is also known as the Cullinan 1 diamond and it is approximately the same size and shape as a regular chicken egg.
The ‘Second (or Lesser) Star of Africa’ is 317 carats, and it adorns the Imperial State Crown. It is sometimes called the Cullinan 2 diamond.