Imperial State Crown : Credit Christine Darrington
The Cullinan Diamond is the largest gem-quality rough diamond ever discovered. Weighing in at over 3,106 carats or 621.35g, it’s easy to see why the manager of the diamond mine threw it away, not believing it could actually be a diamond.
The giant diamond certainly has a rich history. Having been purchased by the Transvaal Government and presented to King Edward VII as a birthday gift, the priceless gem was delivered through the post while a heavily guarded ship travelled to South Africa as a decoy.
The sheer size of the diamond also caused the man who split it – Joseph Asscher – to faint.
It’s definitely a piece that has attracted much discussion due to its unique and intriguing past, but what of its present? Where is it now? What happened to it and where can you see it, or at least parts of it?
In the early 1900’s, eight months of extensive work resulted in the stone being split and cut into nine main pieces and 96 smaller stones. Many of these remain on public display to this day – forming principal parts of the world famous Crown Jewels of England – while others have been used in various extravagant pieces of jewellery.
When Edward VII commissioned the cut, the resulting nine stones were rather simply named Cullinan I to Cullinan IX, with several being incorporated into the Crown Jewels, while the remaining gems and smaller fragments stayed in the possession of the Asscher brothers in Amsterdam. However, these were shortly bought by the South African government and presented to Queen Mary in 1910.
The Cullinans: I-IX
The Cullinan I, pear-shaped and the largest cut from the diamond at 530.2 carats, can now be seen in the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross at the Crown Jewels exhibitions. The sceptre was initially crafted for the coronation of King Charles II in 1661, although following the discovery of the Cullinan, it was redesigned to incorporate what is believed to be the second largest diamond in the world.
The largest of the Cullinan diamonds has on occasion been used in combination with Cullinan II as a brooch. The second largest of the gems – also known as the Lesser Star of Africa – is chiefly situated in the front of the Imperial State Crown, one of the British monarchy’s most symbolic treasures. An incredible 2868 diamonds adorn the Crown, but the Cullinan II is undoubtedly the main attraction; sitting proudly at the front of the crown band. Cushion-shaped and weighing 317.4 carats, the diamond is a glorious spectacle to behold.
Another popular item of the Crown Jewels, Queen Mary’s Crown, once housed the pear-shaped Cullinan III. It has now been replaced with a rock crystal replica within the orb at the crowns pinnacle, with the precious stone now forming a brooch along with Cullinan IV.
The fourth largest of the precious gems was originally an integral part of Queen Mary’s Coronation Crown; centred within the front of the crowns circlet. It too has been replaced by a beautiful replica and incorporated into the brooch that The Queen, since inheriting in 1953, has worn frequently throughout her reign.
The Queen can also often be seen sporting the precious Cullinan V within a brooch. The heart-shaped diamond is mounted in a fine radiating platinum web with a pavé-set border of exquisite smaller diamonds. It was most frequently worn by Queen Mary during her reign, having been created as the detachable centre section of the stomacher designed for the Delhi Durbar in 1911.
Another grouping of the nine Cullinan diamonds features both VI and VIII, weighing 11.5 and 6.8 carats respectively, which also combine to form an elegant brooch. Cullinan VI was inherited by Queen Mary after Queen Alexandra’s death in 1925 and along with VIII, was mounted in such a way that it could also form a part of the Delhi Durbar stomacher.
Another attractive element of Queen Mary’s parure of jewellery for the Delhi Durbar was a diamond and emerald necklace that featured the Cullinan VII diamond – a marquise-shaped jewel that hangs delicately from the green emerald necklace. Also incorporated in the piece are nine of the Cambridge emeralds that were first owned by Queen Mary’s grandmother, the Duchess of Cambridge.
The ninth and smallest of the famous Cullinan jewels still looks rather impressive in its current location, set into a platinum ring designed for Queen Mary in 1911. The pear-shaped diamond weighs 4.4 metric carats and perfectly demonstrates the incredible level of detail that the Asscher brothers were able to achieve with the rather rudimentary equipment they used to cut the Cullinan more than a century ago.
The Cullinans Today
When the various gems that originated from the Star of Africa are not being worn by Her Majesty The Queen, interested parties can discover them for themselves. The Sceptre with the Cross and the Imperial State Crown can be seen at the Tower of London Crown Jewels exhibition, while the remaining Stars of Africa, in their current guises, are held within the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace and can be viewed on an exclusive tour. You can also find out more about the Cullinan Diamond and other famous diamonds in the Crown Jewels on the Historic Royal Palaces Website.
Next time The Queen is on television, why not take a closer look at her choice of jewellery and see whether you can identify one of the Cullinan diamonds.