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Cullinan Diamond Mine, South Africa, An Adventure Experience

Updated on April 10, 2013

Historic Victorian style mine manager homes

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The historic town of Cullinan is found less than an hour’s drive from Johannesburg International Airport in South Africa. This famous diamond mine and village is a great overnight diversion for travelers arriving or departing via Johannesburg. It is an interesting introduction to the country and a completely different experience when compared to the wildlife or city attractions.

A story of the mine's discovery

A story passed down from generation to generation, tells how Tom Cullinan had to use some creativity to identify the rich diamond pipe that lead to the Cullinan Diamond Mine’s birth.

He heard that people were finding diamonds in the rivers of the area and tracked the rivers back to what he thought was the source of the diamonds. However, this source was located on a privately owned farm and when Tom approached the farmer, the farmer was quite hostile and refused any prospecting to be done on his land.

With the help of some colleagues Tom Cullinan placed the carcass of a cow on the farmers land. When told that a sick cow had died on his farm, the farmer agreed to allow Tom and his friends to bury the cow immediately to avoid the spread of disease.

Tom set out to the farm and dug one almighty hole, much larger than one needed to bury a cow, but enough to investigate the soil deep in the earth. They struck a line of blue soil confirming his suspicion of a diamond pipe on the farm.

Tom approached the farmer offering to buy the farm but was met with much resistance. It was only after the farmer’s family ran into financial trouble that they agreed to sell and mining was started.

Famous diamonds found at the mine

The Cullinan mine is reported as having produced more than a quarter of the world’s largest precious diamonds – and in January 1905 earned its place in history with the discovery of the world’s largest diamond ever found, a 3,106 carat diamond (in rough form). It was named the Cullinan after Sir Thomas Cullinan who discovered the mine three years previously. The mine is also the only significant source of rare and highly valuable blue diamonds.

The Cullinan Diamond in 1905

The huge Cullinan Diamond was cut into nine major stones and numerous smaller stones.

Cullinan I - The largest, at over 530 carats, is the pear-shaped Star of Africa also known as Cullinan I. It measures 58.9 × 45.4 × 27.7 mm in size (2.32 in x 1.79 in x 1.1 in) This stone is set in the scepter of the Crown Jewels, a famous attraction at the Tower of London. The diamond may be removed to be worn as a pendant or a pin.

Cullinan II - The 317 carat Cullinan II, also known as the Lesser Star of Africa, is in fact the most valuable gem and is set in the British Imperial State Crown.

Cullinan II

The Jonker Diamond in 1934

A 62 year old mine worker named Johannes Makani discovered a 726 carat stone which became known as the Blue-White Jonker Diamond. The diamond was cut and polished into 13 pieces by New York designer Harry Winston.

The Niarchos Diamond in 1954

A 426.5 carat diamond which as cut and polished into a large pear-shaped stone by Harry Winston’s chief cutter Bernard de Haan. The millionaire Stavros Niarchos bought it for his wife for a whopping $2,000,000.

The Taylor-Burton Diamond in 1966

A large 240.8 carat diamond was found and exported to New York. Once again it was the jeweler Harry Winston who was honored with fashioning it into a piece of timeless art. He cut it into two pieces, the largest being a 162 carat pear-shaped diamond. This was set into a neck piece and put on auction in 1972. Richard Burton successfully bid on the piece and gave it to his wife Elizabeth Taylor.

The Premier Rose Diamond in 1978

The mine was bought by Mr. Jacob Mouw from Mouw Diamond Cutting Works when a large colorless diamond was found. He named it the Premier Rose after his wife, Rose Mouw. The stone was cut into 3 pieces. The largest piece at 137.02 carats was still called the Premier Rose, next was the 31.48 carat named Little Rose and lastly came the 2.11 carat Baby Rose. The 3 diamonds make up the Premier Rose family.

The Golden Jubilee Diamond in 1980

This was the second largest rough stone discovered in the Cullinan diamond, a 755 carat golden yellow diamond. It was named for the 50th anniversary of Thailand’s royal couple, King Bhumibol and Queen Sirakit. The diamond is currently displayed at the Museum at Pimmimak, Bangkok.

The Centenary Diamond in 1986

This diamond, 500 carats in its rough form, was discovered in 1986 but was only announced at the diamond producer’s 100 year celebration in 1988. In 1991 it was unveiled as a heart shaped flawless top color stone.

The Blue Diamond in 2008

This is an example of a 26 and a half carat rough blue diamond, discovered at Cullinan in 2008. After it was cut and polished in South Africa, the exquisite blue diamond was sold for close to nine-and-a-half million dollars – the highest price ever for a blue diamond sold at auction.

The Blue Diamond

Activities and tours in Cullinan

Surface Mine tours

Visitors on a surface tour first view a 15 min DVD about underground operations. The tours lasts around 2 hours.

Then visit

  • a diamond display room
  • mock up underground tunnel
  • shafts where kimberlite rock is hoisted from underground
  • winding engine room
  • lookout point of the big hole
  • diamond cutting shop

Underground Mine tours

This is an adventure tour but must only be done by the physically fit. Anyone with back, heart or respiratory problems should not take the tour.

Visitors are taken underground into the working mine. After a safety briefing guests are fitted with overalls and safety gear, including hard hats and mine boots. They then descend by cage into the mine for 763 meters (2,503 feet). The tour is conducted by one of the supervisory mine workers who explains how the mine operates. The temperature in the shafts will be around 28 degrees Celsius or 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

After the tour guest are allowed to purchase the overalls as a souvenir.

Underground mine tour

A tour conducted by a mine staff member
A tour conducted by a mine staff member

History tour

Cullinan local historian, John Lincoln, provides a spellbinding history tour that includes a visit to the heritage sites and landmarks of the region.

The quaint village is a living museum, with its well preserved miners’ houses, historic buildings - and overnight accommodation providing an ambience that is true to the period.

Shops and restaurants

Explore Cullinan’s quaint shops and arts and crafts, and the excellent cuisine and atmosphere of the local restaurants.

When visiting another country I always like to do something a little different. An underground mine tour at a famous mine fits the bill for me.

Cullinan village and mine

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