"The Excelsior." 970 Carats. Source: Streeter's Precious Stones and Gems (1898)
|Weight||971 3⁄4 carats (194.35 g) rough; 13 to 68 carats (2.6 to 13.6 g) assorted cut|
|Color||G (near colorless)|
|Cut||assorted (ten stones total, largest is a pear shape)|
|Country of origin||South Africa|
|Mine of origin||Jagersfontein Mine|
|Date discovered||June 30, 1895|
|Estimated value||assorted, largest stone sold for $2,642,000 in 1996|
The Excelsior Diamond was found on June 30, 1893 at the Jagersfontein Mine in South Africa, 130 kilometres (81 miles) south east of Kimberley whose fame as a diamond mining center always overshadowed that of Jagersfontein. Until 1905, when the larger Cullinan diamond was found, the Excelsior was the largest known diamond in the world. It had a blue-white tint and weighed 971 old carats or 995.2 metric carats (or 194 g). The Excelsior still rates as the second largest rough diamond of gem quality ever found. It was ultimately cut into ten stones weighing from 13 to 68 carats. (2.6 to 13.6 g).
The Excelsior Diamond was found on June 30, 1893 at the Jagersfontein mine in the Orange Free State, one of the South African Republics during the second half of the 19th Century, by a worker in a shovelful of gravel he was loading into a truck. Instead of handing it over to his overseer, he delivered it directly to the Mine Manager, who rewarded him with £500 in cash and a horse equipped with a saddle and bridle. On the day of the diamond's discovery the contract between the Mining Company and the syndicate of firms in London which purchased its diamonds expired. This may have contributed to the fact that its discovery was not reported in any of the prestigious British newspapers, and the diamond, despite its fine quality and exceptional size, remained largely unremarked upon. It was shipped to the London offices of Messrs Wernher, Beit and Company, one of the members of diamond buying syndicate, with the mining company retaining a 50% share in the ownership of the diamond. Messrs Wernher & Beit attempted to insure the diamond for £40,000, but eventually settled for £16,250.
In 1895 the Excelsior diamond was joined by another very large diamond from the Jagersfontein Mine, first called the Reitz Diamond after the President of the Orange Free State, but was soon renamed the Jubilee Diamond, in honor of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee anniversary of her coronation. For reasons that remain obscure this smaller diamond weighing only 650.80 carats, overshadowed the Excelsior, which, it is speculated, was perceived to be far too large, and of superior quality for any prospective buyer. The consequence was that it was sent I.J. Asscher in Amsterdam, in 1903, to be cut into ten smaller stones.
The rough stone
The rough stone measured 971 carats in weight and was categorized as Color G. The stone was shaped like a half a loaf of bread; it was unique and inspired the name Excelsior, which means “higher”. It measured two and ½ inches by two inches by one inch thick. The Excelsior was a colored a stunning white with a tint of blue. It did contain a number of black carbon inclusions, which are typical of the diamonds from the Jagersfontein mine. The crystalline structure resembled a fractured icicle. From the time of its discovery on June 30, 1893, it was the largest diamond known to exist, until the discovery of the Cullinan Diamond in 1905.
The cutting of the excelsior
Finally, after the diamond sat in the vault waiting for a buyer for many years, the owners made the tragic decision to cut the stone into several smaller stones. This decision meant that The Excelsior would never be a single large spectacular faceted stone. At the time, the manager of the De Beers diamond syndicate said that the dividing of the stone into many small pieces was "the greatest tragedy of modern times in the history of famous diamonds". In retrospect, diamond experts feel that it should have been cut to yield a single large diamond. Why it was not, remains a mystery. By contrast, the owners of the Cullinan Diamond cut that stone in such a way that the largest faceted diamond in the world came from it. The fate of the Excelsior kept it out of the Smithsonian or other historical museums. It was cut without regard to its historical significance, divided into small, easily sold assorted stones. The named pieces were:
|Excelsior I||69.68 carats||pear shape|
|Excelsior II||47.03 carats||pear shape|
|Excelsior III||46.90 carats||marquise shape|
|Excelsior IV||40.23 carats||pear shape|
|Excelsior V||34.91 carats||marquise|
|Excelsior VI||28.61 carats||marquise|
|Excelsior VII||26.30 carats||pear shape|
|Excelsior VIII||24.31 carats||pear shape|
|Excelsior IX||16.78 carats||pear shape|
|Excelsior X||13.86 carats||pear shape|
|Excelsior XI||9.82 carats||pear shape|
There were a further 11 smaller pieces, some only a fraction of a carat in weight. It was many years before all of the separate stones were sold.
The cut stones were parceled out and sold to several different buyers. The Excelsior I, which came up for sale in 1991 and 1996, was purchased by Robert Mouawad for $2,642,000. The remaining stones were used in various grand jewelry pieces such as extravagant tiaras and fabulous bracelets and other fine jewelry creations.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Balfour, I. (1987) “Famous Diamonds“. p. 155-157. Collins, London. ISBN 0 00 4122661.
- Crider, H.D. (1924) The Story of the Diamond. ‘’American Midland Naturalist’’ Vol. 9.4: 176- 191.
- Burton, E. (1978) “Diamonds“. p. 50. N.A.G. Press, London. ISBN 0719800714.
- Reinke, Denny (2011) Famous Diamonds: The Excelsior Diamond. http://www.diamondsourceva.com/Education/FamousDiamonds/famous-diamonds-excelsior.asp |accessdate=3 November 2011
- Williams, A. (1948) Some dreams come true. p. 45. Howard B. Timmins, Cape Town
- Kunz, G. F. (1909) "The Two Largest Diamonds" p. 277-286. The Century Magazine. Macmillan & Co. Ltd. London