Cullinan Diamond

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Cullinan Diamond
Rough cullinan diamond.jpg
The rough diamond
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 Queen Elizabeth II in right of the Crown (I and II) and as a private individual (III–IX)

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, modern-day South Africa, on 26 January 1905. It was named after the chairman of the mine, Thomas Cullinan.

It was presented to King Edward VII of the United Kingdom for his 66th birthday and 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 clear cut 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 (109.13 g)), also from the Premier Mine. Cullinan I is mounted in the head of the Sovereign's Sceptre with Cross. The second-largest is Cullinan II or the Second Star of Africa; at 317.4 carats (63.48 g) it is the fourth-largest cut diamond in the world, and is mounted in the Imperial State Crown. Both diamonds are part of the Crown Jewels which belong to the monarch in right of the Crown.

Seven other major diamonds cut from the original 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 along with ninety-six minor stones.


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.

FGS Wells with Cullinan Diamond
A copy of the rough diamond with a tape measure for scale

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."[3] The discovery became a global sensation, with the developments being followed avidly by the press.

Wells was awarded £3,500 for the 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. 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.[4]

Journey to England[edit]

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.[5] 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).[4]

Arrival in England and cutting process[edit]

Joseph Asscher making the first split

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, the Duke of Westminster and Lord Revelstoke. The king asked his colonial secretary, Lord Elgin, to announce that he accepted the precious gift "for myself and my successors" and that he would ensure "this great and unique diamond be kept and preserved among the historic jewels which form the heirlooms of the Crown".[4]

It was cut into three sections on 10 February 1908 by Asscher Brothers of Amsterdam and eventually into nine large stones and a number of smaller ones.[6] At the time, technology had not yet evolved to guarantee the quality of modern standards, and cutting the diamond was difficult and risky. To enable Asscher to cleave the diamond in one blow an incision half an inch (1.27 cm) deep was made. Then a sharp knife was placed in the incision and the diamond was split clean in two with a piece of steel along one of four possible cleavage planes. The Cullinan split through a defective spot which was shared in both halves of the diamond.[3]

It was reported that the knife broke on the first attempt.[6] "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 (2002), "that when he prepared to cleave the largest diamond ever known … he had a doctor and nurse standing by and when he finally struck the diamond … he fainted dead away".[7] Lord Ian Balfour, in his book Famous Diamonds (2009), dispels the fainting story, suggesting it was more likely Joseph Asscher would have celebrated, opening a bottle of champagne.[8] When Joseph Asscher's nephew Louis heard the story, he exclaimed, "No Asscher would ever faint over any operation on any diamond".[9]

The nine largest stones after the rough Cullinan diamond was split

Principal diamonds cut from the Cullinan[edit]

The rough diamond was split and cut into nine major stones, ninety-six minor ones, and 9 carats (1.8 g) of polished fragments. All but two of the largest stones – Cullinans I and II belong to the Crown – and the small brilliants remained in Amsterdam until the South African government bought them (with the exception of Cullinan VI which Edward VII had purchased and given to his wife Queen Alexandra in 1907) and the High Commissioner for Southern Africa presented them to Queen Mary on 28 June 1910.[4] Mary also inherited Cullinan VI from Alexandra, and she left all the Cullinan diamonds to her granddaughter Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.[10] Some of the minor stones are set in a long platinum chain which Elizabeth has never worn in public, saying that "it gets in the soup".[11]

Cullinan I[edit]

The nine major stones cut from the rough diamond. Top: Cullinans II, I, and III. Bottom: Cullinans VIII, VI, IV, V, VII and IX.

Cullinan I, or the Great Star of Africa, is a pendeloque-cut diamond weighing 530.2 carats (106.04 g) and has 74 facets.[12] It is set at the top of the Sovereign's Sceptre with Cross which had to be redesigned in 1910 to accommodate it. It is the largest stone produced from the rough Cullinan diamond and is still the largest clear cut diamond in the world.[13] The 5.9-centimetre (2.3 in) long diamond can be taken out of its setting to be worn as a pendant suspended from Cullinan II to make a brooch. For this purpose, both diamonds have tiny platinum loops.[5][14]

Cullinan II[edit]

Cullinan II, or the Second Star of Africa, is a cushion-cut diamond with 66 facets weighing 317.4 carats (63.48 g) set in the front of the Imperial State Crown,[12] below the Black Prince's Ruby (a large spinel).[15]

Cullinan III[edit]

Cullinan III, or the Lesser Star of Africa, is pear-cut and weighs 94.4 carats (18.88 g).[12] Queen Mary, wife and queen consort of George V, had it set in the top cross pattée of the crown that was made for her coronation in 1911. In 1914, it was replaced by a crystal model. Today, Cullinan III is most frequently worn in combination with Cullinan IV by Elizabeth II as a brooch.[16]

Cullinan IV[edit]

Cullinan IV, also referred to as the Lesser Star of Africa, is square-cut and weighs 63.6 carats (12.72 g).[12] It was also set in the base of Queen Mary's Crown; however, it too was removed in 1914. On 25 March 1958, while she and Prince Philip were on a state visit to the Netherlands, the Queen Elizabeth II revealed that Cullinan III and IV are known in her family as "Granny's Chips". The couple visited the Asscher Diamond Company, where the Cullinan had been cut 50 years earlier. It was the first time the Queen had worn the brooch publicly. During her visit, she unpinned the brooch and offered it for examination to 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 with her, knowing how much it would mean to him seeing them again after so many years.[17]

Cullinan V[edit]

Cullinan V is an 18.8-carat (3.76 g) heart-shaped diamond set 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.[18]

Cullinan VI[edit]

Cullinan VI is marquise-cut and weighs 11.5 carats (2.30 g).[12] 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.[19]

Cullinan VII[edit]

Cullinan VII is also marquise-cut and weighs 8.8 carats (1.76 g).[12] It was originally given by Edward VII to his wife and consort Queen Alexandra. After his death she gave the jewel to Queen Mary, who had it set as a pendant hanging from the diamond-and-emerald Delhi Durbar necklace, part of the parure.[20]

Cullinan VIII[edit]

Cullinan VIII is an oblong-cut diamond weighing 6.8 carats (1.36 g).[12] It is set in the centre of a brooch forming part of the stomacher of the Delhi Durbar parure. Together with Cullinan VI it forms a brooch.[19]

Cullinan IX[edit]

Cullinan IX is smallest of the principal diamonds to be obtained from the Cullinan. It is pear-cut, weighs 4.39 carats (0.878 g), and is set in a platinum ring known as the Cullinan IX Ring.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Jewelers' Circular. 89. August 1924. p. 57. 
  2. ^ "The Cullinan Diamond". The Royal Collection. 2012. Archived from the original on 21 September 2012. Retrieved 25 January 2017. 
  3. ^ a b c Sir William Crookes (1909). Diamonds. Harper & Brothers. pp. 77–79. 
  4. ^ a b c d Leslie Field (1997). The Queen's Jewels. Harry N. Abrams. p. 72. ISBN 978-0-8109-8172-0. 
  5. ^ a b Joan Y. Dickinson (1965). The Book of Diamonds: Their History and Romance from Ancient India to Modern Times. Crown. pp. 110–111. 
  6. ^ a b Nigel Helme (1974). Thomas Major Cullinan: A Biography. McGraw-Hill. p. 88. ISBN 978-0-07-091286-1. 
  7. ^ Matthew Hart (2002). Diamond: A Journey to the Heart of an Obsession. Plume Books. p. 204. ISBN 978-0-452-28370-1. 
  8. ^ Ian Balfour (2009). Famous Diamonds. Antique Collectors' Club. p. 71. ISBN 978-1-85149-479-8. 
  9. ^ David E. Koskoff (1981). The Diamond World. Harper & Row. p. 174. ISBN 978-0-06-038005-2. 
  10. ^ Joan Y. Dickinson (2012). The Book of Diamonds. Courier. p. 114. ISBN 978-0-486-15682-8. 
  11. ^ Life. 10. Time. July 1987. p. 48. 
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Mohsen Manutchehr-Danai (2013). Dictionary of Gems and Gemology. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 118. ISBN 978-3-662-04288-5. 
  13. ^ "The Sovereign's Sceptre with Cross". Royal Collection. 31712. 
  14. ^ Ronald Allison; Sarah Riddell (1991). The Royal Encyclopedia. Macmillan Press. p. 137. ISBN 978-0-333-53810-4. 
  15. ^ "The Imperial State Crown". Royal Collection. 31701. 
  16. ^ "Cullinan III and IV Brooch". Royal Collection Trust. Retrieved 15 June 2016. 
  17. ^ Kenneth J. Mears (1988). The Tower of London: 900 Years of English History. Phaidon. p. 150. ISBN 978-0-7148-2527-4. 
  18. ^ "The diamonds and their history" (PDF). Royal Collection Trust. Retrieved 24 January 2016. 
  19. ^ a b "Cullinan VI and VIII Brooch". Royal Collection Trust. Retrieved 15 June 2016. 
  20. ^ "Delhi Durbar Necklace with Cullinan VII Pendant". Royal Collection Trust. Retrieved 15 June 2016. 
  21. ^ "Cullinan IX Ring". Royal Collection Trust. Retrieved 15 June 2016. 

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