- November 29th, 2011
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In 1898, Thomas Cullinan, a South African bricklayer turned prospector, discovered what would later become the legendary Premier diamond fields. Cullinan built his fortune in those fields, becoming the premier figure in the history of South African diamond mining.
He built the Premier mine, which was then, and is now, the most important and unique diamond mine in the world. This mine is still the only noted source of blue diamonds in the world. Most of the largest rough diamonds in the world were found in that mine.
In 1905, Thomas Evan Powell emerged from the Premier mine with a gigantic rock. About two thirds the size of a volleyball, the 3106.75 carat—that’s a pound and a half–diamond was quickly determined to be the largest rough diamond ever found. It was quickly named the Cullinan Diamond. At the time, it was twice the size of the largest diamond ever found.
The stone was later presented to England’s King Edward VII, possibly the most ridiculously overpriced birthday present in human history. Security for transporting the diamond to England was ingenious. A fake diamond was placed, with London detectives as security, on a boat to England. The real Cullinan was sent through the postal service with little fanfare or security.
Rumors and legends abound around this legendary stone. Mijnheer Asscher, the legendary cleaver who cut the diamond in two with one swift stroke, supposedly fainted after cutting it in half (though that story is widely disputed).
The diamond now rests in nine pieces. The largest, The Great Star of Africa (also called Cullinan I), rests in the Tower of London, a gleaming 530 carat masterpiece gem. The Lesser Star of Africa, at a still-massive 317 carats, also resides in the tower.
The Premier mine in Africa, which was purchased by Petra Diamonds from DeBeers in 2005, continues to be, arguably, the most valuable diamond mine in the world. Its blue ground also produced the Golden Jubilee, now the largest cut diamond in the world. That diamond’s history is equally fascinating—thought to be a nearly worthless test diamond, its value was discovered by accident. It ended up going from Thailand all the way to the Vatican to be blessed by Pope John Paul II.
With its fascinating origins, stunning clarity, and rich history, the Great Star of Africa remains one of the most legendary gems in the history of diamonds.