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The Cullinan Diamond

the largest clear white diamond ever found

In 1903 Thomas Cullinan established a diamond mine in South Africa. Very productive almost from the beginning, the mine became world famous on January 26, 1905, when mine superintendent Frederick Wells discovered a huge rough diamond stuck into the wall of a pit, about 18 feet from the surface. Upon its extraction, the diamond was found to weigh an astonishing 3,106.75 carats (about 1-1/3 pounds).

reproduction of the rough, uncut Cullinan Diamond
reproduction of the rough, uncut Cullinan Diamond

Named for the mine's owner, the Cullinan Diamond was subsequently sold to the South African government, which in turn presented it to King Edward VII of the United Kingdom for his 66th birthday (in 1907). The responsibility of cutting the rough diamond was given to I.J. Asscher of Amsterdam, who studied it for months before beginning his work. The first cut was made on February 8, 1908, and the rough stone was eventually cut into 9 major and 96 smaller individual diamonds, plus an additional ~9 carats of unpolished fragments. The two largest diamonds were returned to King Edward VII, while the other seven (and fragments) were left with Asscher as payment for his services. Asscher sold his "shares" of the Cullinan Diamond to the South African government, which in turn presented them to Queen Mary (in 1910).

glass replicas of the nine major pieces cut from the Cullinan Diamond
glass replicas of the nine major pieces cut from the Cullinan Diamond

Cullinan I (aka Great Star of Africa) is a pear-shaped diamond weighing 530.2 carats. On display in the Tower of London as one of the British Crown Jewels, it is usually set in the head of the Royal Sceptre, but can also be worn as a pendant.

Cullinan II (aka Lesser Star of Africa) is cushion-shaped and weighs 317.4 carats. Also on display with the Crown Jewels, it is the main jewel on the Imperial State Crown.

Cullinan III is a pear-shaped diamond weighing 94.40 carats. Originally set in the finial of Queen Mary's Crown, it is now most commonly seen as a pendant-brooch, in combination with Cullinan IV, worn Queen Elizabeth II on special occasions.

Cullinan IV, a 63.60-carat cushion-shape, was originally set in the band of Queen Mary's crown, but is now worn as jewelry, as described above.

Cullinan V is a triangular-pear cut weighing 18.80 carats. It is set in the center of a brooch and has a large number of smaller stones set around it. Queen Elizabeth II has worn this brooch many times, perhaps making it the most commonly seen stone cut from the original rough diamond.

Cullinan VI, an 11.50-carat marquise-cut stone, was originally presented by King Edward to his wife, Queen Alexandra, and is now worn by Queen Elizabeth II as a drop on a diamond and emerald necklace.

Cullinan VII is an 8.80-carat marquise-cut stone mounted in a pendant on a small all-diamond brooch, in the center of which is the 6.80-carat cushion cut Cullinan VIII.

Cullinan IX, a 4.39-carat pear shape, is mounted in a ring with a prong setting that was made for Queen Mary.

glass replicas of the final cut diamonds
glass replicas of the final cut diamonds


Cullinan Diamonds
Famous Diamonds
Royal Collection Trust

See Also

King Edward VII
Tower of London
Queen Elizabeth II

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The Robinson Library >> Mineralogy

This page was last updated on 09/28/2018.