The King of Diamonds

Discovered in 1905

The 26th of January was already a date of historical significance in Britain. From hoisting the Union Flag over Australia in 1788 to claiming Hong Kong as sovereign territory in 1841, it was a historic day of prosperity. On January 26th, 1905, when the largest gem-quality diamond in history was unearthed in southern Africa, nobody realized it would become another windfall date for Britain.

Cullinan Diamond
Image Source:

The 3,106.75 carat diamond unearthed that day measured approximately 50.00 x 50.00 x 100.00 mm. Named for the chairman of the Premier mine, the Cullinan was subsequently gifted to King Edward VII by the Transvaal government in 1907 to demonstrate loyalty to His Royal Majesty and the British royal family. In a circular honor, on its 100th anniversary in 2003, the Premier mine was renamed The Cullinan Diamond mine.

Cleaving the Cullinan

The leading diamond cutters at the time were the Asschers in Amsterdam. They received the Cullinan and spent weeks in examination. A number of inclusions within the crystal prevented it from being cut into a single stone so they carefully calculated how to split it into several pieces to best advantage. It took four days to prepare the groove in which the cleaving knife would sit.

Asscher cleaving the Cullinan
Image Source: Royal Collection Trust

The first attempted blow split the knife, rather than the diamond, causing a need to regroup. Four days later, on February 10, 1908 Joseph Asscher successfully cleaved the Cullinan. After the initial splitting, nine large, primary pieces of rough were produced.

Image Source: Royal Collection Trust

The Asschers worked long days for a period of eight months to fashion these nine primary diamonds and bring them to final polish. Each was given a number from I to IX and is still referred to by that number.

Nine polished diamonds
Image Source: Royal Collection Trust

The two largest gems, Cullinan I and II, were formally presented to King Edward VII at Windsor Castle in November of 1909. The other seven remained with the Asschers as a fee for their services. In 1910 the South African government acquired those remaining primary stones from the cutters – with the exception of Cullinan VI which Edward VII had purchased and given to Queen Alexandra – and presented them to Queen Mary, reuniting the Cullinan’s major pieces.

Cullinan IX

The Cullinan IX, a 4.39 carat stepped pear shape. or pendeloque cut is mounted in a ring created by The House of Garrard, made for Queen Mary, and still worn by Queen Elizabeth II.

Cullinan IX
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Cullinan VIII and VII

The Cullinan VIII is a 6.80 carat oblong cushion cut, seen here mounted in a brooch along with the Cullinan VII, an 8.80 carat marquise cut.

Cullinan VIII
Image Source: Artemisias Royal Jewels

Cullinan VI

The Cullinan VI is an 11.50 carat marquise-cut. Like its 8.80 carat sibling, it’s seen here paired with the Cullinan VIII as a brooch.

Image Source: Artemisia’s Royal Jewels

Cullinan V

The Cullinan V is an 18.80 carat heart-shaped diamond set in a platinum brooch. Originally a devant de corsage made for Queen Mary in 1911, it is now one of Queen Elizabeth II’s favorite pieces.

Cullinan V
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Cullinan IV and III

Affectionately known as “Granny’s Chips,” the Cullinan IV and III often appear together as a brooch. The Cullinan IV is a square cut diamond that weighs 63.60 carats, from which is suspended the Cullinan III, a 94.40 carat pear shape that is thought to have been Queen Mary’s personal favorite of the Cullinan collection. Some people refer to the Cullinan IV and III as “Lesser Stars of Africa,” respectfully linking their size and quality with that of the Cullinan I and II.

Cullinan III and IV
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Cullinan II

The Cullinan II, or the “Second Star of Africa,” is a 317.40 carat cushion-cut with 66 facets set into the front of the Imperial State Crown. This is one of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom, symbolizing the sovereignty of the monarch. The crown is adorned with 2,901 precious stones, including the Cullinan II, St Edward’s Sapphire, the Stuart Sapphire, and the Black Prince’s Ruby – which we now know is a red spinel.

Cullinan II
Image Source: Wikipedia

Cullinan I

Known as the “Great Star of Africa,” The Cullinan I is a 530.20 carat pendeloque cut brilliant with 74 facets. Measuring 5.89 cm x 4.54 cm x 2.77 cm (centimeters, not millimeters), it is the largest polished colorless diamond in the world. In 1911 The House of Garrard, Crown Jeweler, mounted it into the Sovereign’s Sceptre, originally created for the coronation of Charles II in 1661. The structure which holds the diamond is hinged, so the stone can be removed and worn separately. After its original fashioning in 1908, the stone was valued at $2.5 million. Incorporated into the Sovereign’s Sceptre and Cross, as part of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom, it’s beyond price.

Cullinan I
Image Source: Royal Collection Trust

The Cullinan I and Cullinan II were examined by gemologists at the Tower of London in the 1980s and both were graded as colorless Type IIa diamonds.

Crowning Jewels

From Queen Mary to The Queen Mother to Queen Elizabeth II today, diamonds fashioned from the Cullinan have adorned members of the Royal Family for over 100 years. Her Royal Majesty ascended to the throne at age 25 and recalls seeing the State Crown and Sovereign’s Sceptre passed to her father, before her.

“I’ve seen one coronation, and been the recipient in the other, which is pretty remarkable.” – Queen Elizabeth II

Queen with Crown
Image Source: BBC

In 1973 the people of Burma gifted Queen Elizabeth II with 96 rubies. These were incorporated into a Ruby and Diamond tiara Her Royal Majesty wears with frequency. The number 96 has meaning – as the Burmese people believe rubies have healing properties and will protect a wearer from 96 diseases that can afflict the human body. They wanted to ensure that the Queen remained hale and hearty.

So far, so good.

Long live the Queen. And long live the King of diamonds.

Queen and Stars of Africa
Image Source:

Written by John Pollard


Would you wear a 530.20 carat diamond in public? Do you know which diamond shape, used for one of the Cullinan stones, Louis de Berquem is credited for creating? Are you caught up on your episodes of The Crown? Do you think a colorless diamond weighing more than 3106.75 carats will ever be discovered?


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