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A Brief History the Largest Gem-quality Diamond Ever Found

Updated on January 18, 2017

Have you heard of the Cullinan? It has the distinction of being the largest gem-quality diamond ever found. But this 3,106.75 carat (621.35 grams) diamond doesn't exist in a single piece. It was cut into 9 major pieces, the largest of which, called Cullinan I, or the Great Star of Africa, which is of 530.4 carats, adorns the royal scepter, and the second largest piece, called Cullinan II, or the Second Star of Africa, which is of 317.4 carats, is mounted on the Crown of Queen Elizabeth II.

Cullinan was found in the Premier Mine, near Pretoria in South Africa on January 26, 1905 by Captain Frederick Wells, superintend of the mine, during routine inspection. The discovery became a global sensation at that time. According to the captain's account, he saw a flash of light reflected by the sun on the wall of a shaft. On closer look, he noticed a partially exposed crystal jutting out of a rock. At first, he thought it was a shard of glass placed by the minors as a practical joke.

But Wells proceeded to release it anyway which he did using his pocket knife. He was astounded to find a 3.875 inches long, 2.25 inches wide and 2,625 inches high piece what looked like pure diamond and immediately took it for examination. The man who performed the analysis, Sir William Crookes, declared that it was indeed a gem-quality diamond. Wells and Crookes immediately decided to name the diamond Cullinan, after the owner of the diamond mine, Sir Thomas Cullinan.

The Cullinan had remarkable clarity, but had a black spot in the middle, with very vivid colors around it, that changed as the analyzer was turned. The side of the diamond was perfectly smooth, which led Crooks to surmise that it has been part of a much larger diamond. The rest of the diamond, however, has never been found. Perhaps, it's still buried deep inside the earth.

Sir Thomas Cullinan awarded Wells with 3,500 British pounds, a considerable sum at that time, and sold the diamond to the government of Transvaal for 150,000 British pounds. The Prime Minister of Transvaal suggested that it be presented to King Edward VII, as a token of loyalty to the the British throne and the British Empire. Although it was just after the brutal Boers War, the vote went in favor of the prime minister's proposal. And thus, the largest diamond in the world came to be in the possession of the British Crown.

The immense value of the Cullinan posed a huge security problem for the authorities charged with transporting it from South Africa to England. There were rumors that criminals were planning a heist. So, they first transported a decoy on a steamboat and the news was widely circulated around the world. The actual stone was sent via registered parcel post in a plain box, which arrived safely in London.

The Cullinan was first cut into three large pieces and then eventually cut into 9 major gem-quality stones and 96 smaller stones. The largest two pieces were mounted on the royal scepter and crown and the remaining pieces remained in possession of the the diamond-cutting firm owned by Messer's I. J. Assher of Amsterdam, who had cut the diamond. The pieces were later bought by the government of South Africa and presented to Queen Mary in 1910.

Great Star of Africa

Cullinan I: As mentioned earlier, this pear-cut 530.2 carat diamond, also known as the Great Star of Africa, is mounted on the royal scepter of the British monarch.

Second Star of Africa

Cullinan II: As mentioned earlier, this carat rectangular-cushion-cut 317.4 diamond, also known as the Second Start of Africa, is mounted on the royal crown of the British monarch.

Lesser Stars of Africa

Cullinan III: This 94.4-carat diamond, also known as the Lesser Stars of Africa (along with Cullinan IV), forms a part of the brooch worn by the Queen, but she rarely wears it.

Cullinan IV: This square-cut 63.6 carat diamond, also known as the Lesser Stars of Africa (along with Cullinan III), forms a part of the brooch worn by the Queen, but she rarely wears it.

Cullinan V: This heart-cut 18.8 carat diamond forms part of a brooch worn by the Queen. She wears it frequently and is one of her most worn piece of jewelry.

Cullinan VI: This marquise-cut 8.8 carat diamond hangs from the brooch containing Cullinan VIII.

Cullinan VII: This marquise-cut 11.5 carat diamond is part of a pendant that hangs from a diamond and emerald necklace.

Cullinan VIII: This cushion-cut 6.8 carat diamond is part of a brooch along with Cullinan VI. For some reason, the Queen has never worn it in public.

Cullinan IX: This pear-cut 4.4 carat diamond is set in a platinum ring, which is known as the Cullinan IX ring.

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      James 2 years ago

      I've never done that myself--give an apcplanie, but my brother did. It wasn't a happy day for him. I like to send flowers with a nice card just for no wife seems to get more out of it then, rather than when it's for an occasion. The guys in my wife's office hate me. LOL! The special occasion gifts are usually either romantic or sentimental.