Cullinan Diamond

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Cullinan Diamond
Cullinan copie (République d'Afrique du Sud).jpg
The rough diamond
Largest stones after the split
Weight 3,106.75 carats (621.350 g)
Color White
Cut Assorted
Country of origin South Africa
Mine of origin Premier Mine
Cut by Asscher Brothers
Original owner Premier Diamond Mining Company Ltd
Owner Royal Collection (I and II)
Queen Elizabeth II (III–IX)

The Cullinan Diamond was a large gem-quality diamond weighing 3,106.75 carats (621.350 g) discovered at the Premier No. 2 mine outside Pretoria, South Africa, on 26 January 1905. It was cut into several polished gems, 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 polished white diamond in the world. It was the largest polished diamond of any colour until the discovery in 1985 of the Golden Jubilee Diamond (545.67 carats (109.134 g)), also from the Premier Mine. Cullinan I is mounted in the head of the Sovereign's Sceptre with Cross. The second-largest gem from the rough stone, Cullinan II or the Second Star of Africa, at 317.4 carats (63.48 g), is the fourth-largest polished diamond in the world, and is mounted in the Imperial State Crown. Both diamonds are in the Crown Jewels, which are part of the Royal Collection held in trust by Queen Elizabeth II for her successors and the nation. Seven other diamonds cut from the original belong to the Queen personally.


The Cullinan diamond was found by a miner named Thomas Evan Powell, who brought it to the surface and gave it to Frederick Wells, surface manager of the Premier Diamond Mining Company in Cullinan, South Africa, on 26 January 1905.[1] At approximately 1 13 pounds (600 grams), 3 78 inches (98 mm) long, 2 14 inches (57 mm) wide and 2 58 inches (67 mm) high the diamond was twice the size of any previously discovered. Wells immediately took it for examination.

Sir William Crookes performed an analysis of the Cullinan diamond, ascertaining a weight of 3,106 carats (621.2 grams). The stone was immediately named after Sir Thomas Cullinan, the owner of the diamond mine, who had discovered the mine after many years of unsuccessful searching.[2] Crookes mentioned its remarkable clarity, but also a black spot in the middle. The colours around the black spot were very vivid and changed as the analyser was turned. According to Crookes, this pointed to internal strain.[3] Such strain is not uncommon in diamonds. Because one side of the diamond was perfectly smooth, it was concluded that the stone had originally been part of a much larger diamond, that had been broken up by natural forces. Crookes pronounced the Cullinan "a fragment, probably less than half, of a distorted octahedral crystal; the other portions still await discovery by some fortunate miner."[4] Naturally the discovery became a global sensation, with the developments being followed avidly by the press.

Wells was awarded £3,500 for his find and the diamond was purchased by the Transvaal Colony government for £150,000 and insured for ten times the amount. Prime Minister Louis Botha suggested that the diamond be presented to King Edward VII as "a token of the loyalty and attachment of the people of Transvaal to his throne and person". A vote was staged in order for the government to find out what should be done with the diamond. Oddly enough, in the aftermath of the Boer Wars the Boers voted in favour of presenting the king with the diamond and the English settlers voting against such a move. The final vote was 42 against and 19 in favour. In the wake of the vote, the British prime minister of the time, Henry Campbell-Bannerman, decided to leave the decision of whether to accept the gift up to the king himself. However, future prime minister Winston Churchill eventually managed to persuade the king to accept, to which Edward VII finally agreed. Churchill was presented with a replica of the diamond, which he allegedly delighted in showing off to friends and displaying on a silver plate.[5]

Journey to England[edit]

Glass copies of the nine largest diamonds cut from the rough Cullinan

In 1905, due to the immense value of the Cullinan, the authorities in charge of the transportation were posed with a huge potential security problem. Detectives from London were placed on a steamboat that was rumoured to carry the stone, where a parcel was ceremoniously placed in the Captain's safe and guarded throughout the entire journey. However this was a diversionary tactic. The stone on that ship was 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.[6] Upon receiving the stone safely in England Sir Francis Hopwood and Mr. Richard Solomon (the Agent-General of the Transvaal government in London) travelled from London to Sandringham, Norfolk by train, accompanied by just two experienced Scotland Yard policemen. They reached their destination safely, despite reports of a potential robbery looming. Later that day, Edward invested Solomon as a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (KCVO).[7]

Arrival in England and cutting process[edit]

The diamond was presented to the king on his birthday, in the presence of a large party of guests, including the Queen of Norway, the Queen of Spain, Bendor Westminster and Lord Revelstoke.[4][8] The king had the secretary of state, Lord Elgin, announce that he accepted the precious gift "for myself and my successors" and that he would ensure that "this great and unique diamond be kept and preserved among the historic jewels which form the heirlooms of the crown".[7]

It was cut into three large parts by Asscher Brothers of Amsterdam, and eventually into nine large gem-quality stones and a number of smaller fragments. At the time, technology had not yet evolved to guarantee quality of the modern standard, and cutting the diamond was considered difficult and risky. To enable Asscher to cleave the diamond in one blow, an incision was made, half an inch deep. Then, a specifically designed knife was placed in the incision and the diamond was split in one heavy blow. The diamond split through a defective spot, which was shared in both halves of the diamond.[9]

The story goes that when the diamond was split, the knife broke during the first attempt. "The tale is told of Joseph Asscher, the greatest cleaver of the day," wrote Matthew Hart in his book Diamond: A Journey to the Heart of an Obsession, "that when he prepared to cleave the largest diamond ever known, the 3,106 carats (621.2 g) Cullinan, he had a doctor and nurse standing by and when he finally struck the diamond and it broke perfectly in two, he fainted dead away." Lord Ian Balfour, in his book "Famous Diamonds" (2000), dispels the fainting story, stating it was more likely Joseph Asscher would have celebrated, opening a bottle of champagne.

Principal diamonds cut from the Cullinan[edit]

Portrait of King George VI holding the Sceptre with Cross, c. 1938. The Imperial State Crown is to his left.

The rough diamond was split and cut into nine major stones and ninety-six smaller ones. All but two of the largest stones (Cullinan I and II) and the small brilliants remained in Amsterdam until the South African Government bought them (with the exception of the Cullinan VI, which Edward VII bought and gave to Queen Alexandra in 1907) and the High Commissioner of the Union of South Africa presented them to Queen Mary on 28 June 1910.[10]

Cullinan I[edit]

Cullinan I is a pear-shaped diamond and is the largest stone cut from the rough Cullinan diamond and the clearest cut diamond in the world. It is also known as the Great Star of Africa, and is set in the head of the Sovereign's Sceptre with Cross, which had to be reworked to accommodate it. The diamond is 5.9 centimetres (2.3 in) long and weighs 530.4 carats (106.08 g). It may taken out of the sceptre and worn as a pendant or suspended from Cullinan II to make a brooch.[11] For this purpose, the diamonds both have tiny platinum loops.

Cullinan II[edit]

Cullinan II, or the Second Star of Africa, weighing 317.4 carats and having a rectangular cushion cut, is set in the front cross of the Imperial State Crown, just below the Black Prince's Ruby (a large spinel).[11]

Cullinan III[edit]

Cullinan III is a pear-cut, 94.4-carat diamond known as one of the Lesser Stars of Africa (along with Cullinan IV). Queen Mary, the queen consort of George V, had Cullinan III set in the surmounting cross of her newly acquired crown for her coronation in 1911. In 1914, however, they were replaced by crystal models. After that, Queen Mary mainly wore the crown as a circlet, meaning Cullinan III was not needed. Since Queen Mary's death on 24 March 1953 her consort crown has remained unworn and it is thus unknown if Cullinan III will ever be used again to surmount the Crown of Queen Mary. Presently Cullinan III is most frequently worn as a brooch, in combination with Cullinan IV.

Cullinan IV[edit]

Cullinan IV is square-cushion-cut and weighs 63.6 carats. It was also set in the Crown of Queen Mary originally, as part of the circlet; however, it too was removed in 1914. Since then it has been worn as a brooch along with Cullinan III. Collectively the two diamonds are affectionately known as "Granny's Chips" by Queen Elizabeth II. This was revealed by the Queen on 25 March 1958, while she and Prince Philip were on a state visit to the Netherlands. As part of their tour of the country, the couple visited the Asscher diamond works, where the diamond had been cut 50 years earlier. The occasion marked the first time the Queen had publicly worn the brooch. During the event, the Queen unpinned the brooch and offered it for examination by Louis Asscher, the brother of Joseph Asscher, who had originally cut the diamond. Elderly and almost blind, Asscher was deeply moved by the fact the Queen had brought the diamonds along with her, knowing how much the gesture would mean to him, seeing the diamonds after so many years.

Cullinan V[edit]

Cullinan V brooch

Cullinan V is a 18.8-carat (3.76 g) heart-shaped diamond in the centre of a platinum brooch that formed a part of the stomacher made for Queen Mary to wear at the Delhi Durbar in 1911. The brooch was designed to show off Cullinan V and is pavé-set with a border of smaller diamonds. It can be suspended from the VIII brooch and can be used to suspend the VII pendant. It was often worn like this by Mary who left all the brooches to Elizabeth II when she died in 1953.[12]

Cullinan VI[edit]

Cullinan VI is marquise-cut and weighs 8.8 carats. It hangs from the brooch containing Cullinan VIII and forming part of the stomacher of the Delhi Durbar parure. Cullinan VI along with VIII can also be fitted together to make yet another brooch, surrounded by some 96 smaller diamonds. The design was created around the same time that the Cullinan V heart-shaped brooch was designed, both having a similar shape.

Cullinan VII[edit]

Cullinan VII is also marquise-cut and weighs 11.5 carats. It was originally given by Edward VII to Queen Alexandra. After his death she gave this stone to Queen Mary, who had it set as a pendant hanging from the diamond and emerald Delhi Durbar Necklace, of the Delhi Durbar parure.

Cullinan VIII[edit]

Cullinan VIII is set in the centre of a brooch forming part of the stomacher of the Delhi Durbar parure. It is cushion-cut and weighs 6.8 carats. Together with the Cullinan VI it forms a brooch. Queen Elizabeth II inherited this brooch in 1953; however, in contrast to the Cullinan V heart brooch, she has never been seen wearing it in public, claiming that "it gets in the soup".

Cullinan IX[edit]

Cullinan IX is the final large diamond to be obtained from the Cullinan. It is pear-cut and weighs 4.4 carats. It is set in a platinum ring, known as the Cullinan IX Ring.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Cullinan Diamond". 
  2. ^ "The Cullinan Diamond". 
  3. ^ Crookes, William (1909). "Diamonds". p. 78. 
  4. ^ a b Crookes: Diamonds (1909) Page 77 (A photo of the rough Cullinan, marked as number 17, is facing page 80.)
  5. ^ Leslie Field (1997). The Queen's Jewels. Harry N. Abrams. ISBN 978-0-8109-8172-0. 
  6. ^ Dickinson, Joan Y. (1965). The Book of Diamonds. New York City: Crown Publishers, Inc. p. 110. ISBN 978-0-486-41816-2. 
  7. ^ a b Fields, pp. 72
  8. ^ "Gemstones Diamonds Books - Farlang". Farlang. 
  9. ^ "Gemstones Diamonds Books - Farlang". Farlang. 
  10. ^ Field, p. 72.
  11. ^ a b Dickinson, Joan Y. (1965). The Book of Diamonds. New York City: Crown Publishers, Inc. p. 111. ISBN 978-0-486-41816-2. 
  12. ^ "The diamonds and their history" (PDF). Royal Collection Trust. Retrieved 24 January 2016. 

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