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Famous Diamonds: The Cullinan Diamond

One of the largest diamonds ever found was in South Africa and named for the owner of the mining company. The Cullinan diamond was 3106 carats before being cut into 105 beautiful diamonds.

The Star of Africa, a pear shaped diamond weighing 530.20 carats, is known as the Cullinan I. It measures 53mm x 44mm x 29mm, and has 76 facets (counting the culet and the table). It's called the Cullinan I because it's the largest of the 9 large diamonds cut from the Cullinan Diamond. The Cullinan II is the massive 317.40 carat cushion shaped diamond in the center-front of the Imperial State Crown of Great Britain. The Star of Africa holds the place of 2nd largest cut diamond in the world. The Star of Africa is on display with the other Crown Jewels in the Tower of London.


The nine largest pieces of the Cullinan Diamond.


The largest piece would of course be cut into the Cullinan I (530.20 carats) and the next largest into the Cullinan II (317.40 carats), and so on. This photo was probably taken in 1908, the year after the Cullinan rough diamond was presented to King Edward VII for his 66th birthday.

Late one afternoon in 1905, Mr. Frederick Wells, the superintendent of the prolific Premier Mine in South Africa, was making a routine inspection trip through the diamond mine when his attention was attracted by something reflecting the last slanting rays of the setting sun. Curious, he stopped for a closer look. He was eighteen feet below the surface of the earth, and the shiny object was on the steep wall of the mine a few feet above him. Mr. Wells quickly scaled the wall and extracted from the blueground (material where diamonds are commonly found) what appeared to be a large diamond crystal. At first, he thought he was being fooled by a large piece of glass, but tests proved it to be the largest gem-quality diamond ever discovered.

It weighed 3106 carats, or about 1 1/3 pounds. It was named after Sir Thomas Cullinan, who opened the diamond mine and was visiting on that eventful day. Many diamond experts believe that the huge stone was only a fragment, and that another piece, (possibly as large or even larger) either still exists and awaits discovery, or was crushed in the mining process. The latter is very unlikely. The prospect of finding the portion of the Cullinan has added zest to the activities of numerous miners and prospectors. The Cullinan diamond was sold to the Transvaal government, which presented it to King Edward VII on his 66th birthday on November 9th, 1907. It was insured for $1,250,000 when it was sent to England.

The King entrusted the cutting of the diamond to the famous Asscher Diamond Co. in Amsterdam, which had cut the Excelsior and other large gems. The huge diamond was studied for months. On February 10th, 1908, Mr. Asscher placed the steel cleaver's blade in a previously prepared V-shaped groove and tapped it once with a heavy steel rod. The blade broke, but the diamond remained intact! The second time, it fell apart exactly as planned, and an employee at the factory reported that Mr. Asscher had fainted. A second cleavage in the same direction produced three principal sections; these in turn would produce nine major diamonds, 96 smaller brilliants, and 9.50 carats of unpolished pieces. The nine larger diamonds remain either in the British Crown Jewels or in the personal possession of the Royal Family.

These historically celebrated diamonds and their present mountings are as follows: The Cullinan I, also known as the Star of Africa, weighs 530.20 carats. King Edward placed it in the Sovereign's Royal Scepter as part of the Crown Jewels, and it is now on display in the tower of London. The Cullinan II is a 317.40 carat cushion cut diamond mounted in the band of the Imperial State Crown; it is also in the Tower of London as part of the Crown Jewels. The Cullinan III is a pear-shaped diamond weighing 94.40 carats, and is in the finial of Queen Mary's Crown and can be worn with the IV as a pendant-brooch. Many of Queen Mary's portraits show her wearing these two diamonds, and Elizabeth II makes use of them the same way. The Cullinan IV, a 63.60-carat cushion shape, was originally set in the band of Queen Mary's crown, but can also be worn as jewelry, as described above. The Cullinan V is a triangular-pear cut weighing 18.80 carats, was originally mounted in a brooch for Queen Mary, to be worn alternately in the circlet of her crown as a replacement for the Koh-i-Noor. This was after the Koh-i-Noor was removed to the new crown that was made for Elizabeth (now the Queen Mother) in 1937.

The Cullinan IV (upper, 63.60 carats) and Cullinan III (lower, 94.40 carats), set in a pendant brooch.

The Cullinan VI, an 11.50 carat marquise-cut diamond, was originally presented by King Edward to his wife, Queen Alexandra, and is now worn by Elizabeth II as a drop on a diamond and emerald necklace. It was worn more frequently by the young Queen than any other section of the Cullinan. The Cullinan VII is an 8.80 carat marquise-cut diamond mounted in a pendant on a small all-diamond brooch, in the center of which is the 6.80-carat cushion cut Cullinan VIII, and lastly, the Cullinan IX, a 4.39 carat pear shape, is mounted in a ring with a prong setting that was made for Queen Mary; it too is sometimes worn by Queen Elizabeth.

The Cullinan VII (lower, 8.80 carats) and Cullinan VIII (upper, 6.80 carats)

The Cullinan II Diamond.

Note the two tiny platinum loops on the edges. This is so the stone can be worn as a brooch, alone or with the Cullinan I attached. However, it usually resides in the front of the Imperial State Crown.


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