Famous Gemstones - Star of Africa

Imagine mistaking the largest uncut diamond in the world for a piece of glass. This is exactly what superintendent Frederick Wells almost did, when inspecting the Premier Mine in South Africa on 25th June 1905. This pear shaped diamond was allegedly, originally 5000 carats, which certainly changed the value of the find, and makes it an interesting thought that something so valuable was posted to the other side of the world in a plain cardboard box.

After Wells made the amazing discovery, he gave the diamond to Sir Thomas Cullinan who owned the mine, and who just happened to be visiting the mine that day. It was then named after Sir Thomas Cullinan, as the Cullinan Diamond, or the Cullinan I. Rumour suggests however, that there was a second half of the Cullinan Diamond weighing 1500 – 200 carats, which Wells broke off before giving it to Sir Thomas.

It was then sold by Cullinan to the Transvaal government, who made a gift of it to King Edward VII of England, as a 66th birthday gift on 9th November 1907. Transporting it from South Africa presented a huge security risk. A diversionary tactic was supposedly put in place for any would be thieves, with the pretence of transporting it to England via steamer ship, heavily guarded by detectives from London. However, rumour has it that it was actually posted in a plain cardboard box.

The Cullinan diamond was cut into three parts, and from these were cut many more high quality gems. Nine major gems of these, including the Star of Africa, are displayed in the Tower of London, or in the personal possession of the royal family. The Star of Africa is now the second largest cut diamond in the world, having been outed by the ‘Golden Jubilee’ in 1985. Weighing 530.20 carats, the Star of Africa measures, 53 mm by 44 mm by 29 mm, and was cut from the Cullinan Diamond on 10th February 1908.

The nine larger gems cut from the Cullinan Diamond which are included in the British Crown Jewels:

  • The Star of Africa; also known as the Great Star of Africa – fits into the ‘Sceptre with the Cross’, and may be detached and worn as a brooch
  • The Cullinan II; also known as the Lesser Star of Africa – mounted on the Imperial State Crown
  • The Cullinan III – mounted on Queen Mary’s Crown
  • The Cullinan IV – often worn as a brooch along with the Cullinan III by Queen Mary
  • The Cullinan V – a pear shaped stone
  • The Cullinan VI – worn as a drop of water on a necklace by Queen Elizabeth II
  • The Cullinan VII – worn as a pendant on a brooch, which has at its centre the Cullinan VIII
  • The Cullinan VIX – set in a ring that was made for Queen Mary

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