The Cullinan Diamond Mine, also known as the Premier Diamond Mine, and now owned by Petra Mines, close to the small town of Cullinan near Pretoria, is the source of many of the world’s largest and rare blue diamonds, found in the kimberlite pipe of potassic volcanic rock. This mine’s most famous claim to fame is its discovery of the Cullinan Diamond (rough stone seen below), only nine metres from the surface in its No 2 mine, by the mine superintendent, Mr Frederick Wells, on January 26, 1905. Wells extracted the rough stone using a pocket knife. The stone’s dimensions were 3⅞ inches long x 2¼ inches wide x 2⅝ inches high, making it twice the size of any other diamond ever found. The stone was weighed at the mine office, tipping the scales at 3,106 carats (621.35 grams/1⅓ lbs).
The stone was named after the mine’s owner, Sir Thomas Cullinan, who was an influential building contractor who purchased the Elandsfontein Farm in 1903 on which ground was the mine. The diamond was displayed at the Standard Bank in Johannesburg, prior to being sent to England, to the mine’s London agent, Sigismund Neumann, in an unmarked postal box – a replica of this unique stone was publicly taken on a ship accompanied by detectives!
Publicity photo of the Cullinan rough stone being handed from Fred Wells (right)
Frederick Wells (right) hands the diamond to Thomas McHardy, the mine’s manager (centre), who hands it to Thomas Cullinan (left)
It was conveyed to Buckingham Palace for inspection by King Edward VII and then placed on sale in London in April 1905 but remained unsold until the Transvaal Colony Government bought it for £150,000 as a gift for King Edward VII for his 66th birthday on November 09, 1907. It was presented to him at Sandringham House, in the presence of the Queens of Norway and Spain. King Edward VII accepted the gift “for myself and my successors” ensuring that “this great and unique diamond be kept and preserved among the historic jewels which form the heirlooms of the Crown”.
The King commissioned the cutting to Asscher Brothers Diamond Company in Amsterdam. Abraham Asscher foiled a possible theft, much like the stone’s journey from South Africa to England. He carried the stone in his pocket when he returned to Amsterdam by train and ferry, while a Royal Navy ship carried the empty box across the North Sea – the captain himself did not know of this ruse!
Joseph Asscher studied the stone for many months. Four of its eight surfaces were smooth, indicating that it once had been part of a much larger stone broken up by natural forces. It had a blue-white colour and contained a pocket of air, which manifested Newton’s rings (rainbow colours) at certain angles, as well as a black spot in its centre which was a sign of severe internal strain which made the cutting stressful, to say the least!
Asscher cut the large stone into two stones which weighed 1,977ct and 1,040ct. These were then cut into nine major stones, 96 brilliants and 9.5ct of unpolished pieces. In all, splitting and cutting the diamond took eight months, with three people working 14 hours per day to complete the task. The nine major stones were simply named Cullinan I to IX and several of these stones were incorporated into the Crown Jewels, including the two largest stones, Cullinan I (The Great Star of Africa) and Cullinan II (The Lesser Star of Africa) which now form
part of the British Crown Jewels exhibited in the Tower of London. Some of the 96 brilliant stones were used in the Crown Jewels with the larger stones and the others were made into magnificent pieces of jewellery owned by the British Royal Family. The smaller fragments were kept by the Asscher Brothers in Amsterdam and were purchased by the South African Government and given to Queen Mary in 1910.
The Cullinan diamond is the largest uncut diamond ever discovered. However, when it comes to polished diamonds, the Great Star of Africa (530.4ct) lost its title as the biggest polished diamond to the Golden Jubilee Diamond (545.67ct) in 1985.
Cullinan I, aka the Great Star of Africa (530.4ct), a pear-shaped stone, is mounted in the head of the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross. This stone can be removed and hung as a pendant, either on its own or from the Cullinan II diamond in a brooch – tiny platinum loops on their edges allow this dual function.
Cullinan II, aka the Second Star of Africa (317.4ct), a rectangular cushion-shaped diamond, is mounted in the front of the circlet part of the Imperial State Crown. An incredible 2868 diamonds adorn this magnificent piece of art. Note the platinum loops.
Cullinan III, aka the Lesser Star of Africa (94.4ct), is a pear-shaped diamond originally set in the coronation crown made for Queen Mary, consort of King George V. At present, Cullinan III is usually worn as a brooch, in a configuration that includes Cullinan IV.
Cullinan IV, also aka the Lesser Star of Africa (63.6ct), is a square cushion-shaped stone originally set in the coronation crown made for Queen Mary, consort of King George V. At present, Cullinan III is usually worn as a brooch, in a configuration that includes Cullinan IV.
Queen Elizabeth II refers to the brooch with Cullinan III and IV as ‘Granny’s Chips’; she has worn the priceless piece just six or seven times during her reign.
Queen Mary wearing Cullinans I and II as a brooch on her chest, Cullinan III as a pendant on the Coronation Necklace and Cullinan IV in the base of her crown, below the Koh-i-Noor.
Cullinan V, weighing 18.8ct, is a heart-shaped stone set in the centre of a brooch and surrounded by smaller stones. Queen Mary wore this brooch together with Cullinan VI and VII and today is a favourite brooch of Queen Elizabeth.
Cullinan VI, weighing 8.8ct, is a marquise cut diamond on a brooch with the Cullinan VIII. These two diamonds can also be placed in a different brooch to complement the brooch containing the Cullinan V.
The Cullinan VI (lower, 8.80ct) and Cullinan VIII (upper, 6.80ct)
Cullinan VII is a marquise-shaped stone that hangs from a green emerald necklace that was worn by Queen Mary.
Cullinan VIII (6.8ct) is combined in a brooch with the Cullinan VI diamond (see VI above).
Cullinan IX (4.4ct) is the smallest of the Royal Cullinan collection. It is a pear-shaped stone set into a platinum ring designed for Queen Mary in 1911.
Seven other major diamonds, 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. The Queen also owns minor brilliants and a set of unpolished fragments.
Cullinan Polished Nine Major Stones
Top: II,I and III Bottom: VIII, VI, IV, V, VII and IX
Cullinan Unpolished Stones
Other famous diamonds found in the Cullinan Mine
The Golden Jubilee Diamond (rough weight 755.50ct, polished weight 545.65ct). This large golden yellow diamond stone found in the 1980s, is the second largest diamond found in the Cullinan Mine. It has been named after the 50th anniversary ascent of Thailand’s King Bhumibol and Queen Sirakit and is seen today in the Royal Museum at Pimmimak in Bangkok.
The Jonker Diamond (rough weight 726.50ct, polished weight 126.65ct).
A poor diamond digger, Johannes Makani, worked for Johannes Jacobus Jonker. In 1934 he found a 726ct blue-white rough stone which was purchased a year later by Harry Winston in New York. Winston cut this stone into 13 pieces, the Jonker Diamond being the largest piece.
The Centenary Diamond (rough weight 599.00ct, polished weight 273.85ct).
This stone was discovered in 1986 and was kept ‘under wraps’ until being announced at the producer’s 100-year centenary banquet in 1988. Its final form is a heart-shaped, flawless top-colour stone, surpassed only by the Cullinans I and II.
The Niarchos Diamond (rough weight 426.50ct, polished weight 128.25ct).
In 1954 Stavros Niarchos bought this magnificent $2,000,000 stone for his wife! Bernard de Haan, Harry Winston’s chief cutter, cut it into a large pear-shaped stone and two smaller ones. He named the largest stone The Ice Queen as it would be difficult to find this stone if it was immersed in a bucket of ice cubes!
The Taylor-Burton Diamond (rough weight 240.80ct, polished weight 69.42ct). This stone was found in 1966 and was sent to New York to Harry Winston. It was cut into two Stones and the larger pear-shaped 162ct stone was set by Cartier into a neck piece and was auctioned in 1972. It was bought by Richard Burton as a 40th birthday gift for his wife, the legendary Elizabeth Taylor. It is currently owned by Lebanese diamond dealer, Robert Mouawad.
The Premier Rose Family Diamonds (rough weight 353.9ct, polished weight 137.02ct). In 1978 Jacob Mouw from the Mouw Diamond Cutting Works bought this gem and named it after his wife, Rose. He cut this very large colourless stone into three pieces. The larger of the three has the name Premier Rose and weighs 137.02ct, the 31.48ct stone is called Little Rose and the 2.11ct piece named Baby Rose.
Another very large rough stone was found in the Premier Mine in May 2008 – this 101.27ct stone the size of a ping pong ball was sold at Christie’s in Hong Kong for 46.2 million.