Happy Birthday to the Cullinan Diamond.... the largest gem-quality diamond ever found, at 3106.75 carat (621.35 g, 1.37 lb) rough weight. About 10.5 cm (4.1 inches) long in its largest dimension, it was found on 26 January 1905, in the Premier No. 2 mine, near Pretoria, South Africa.
In 1905 due to the immense value of the Cullinan, the authorities in charge of the transportation were posed with a huge potential security problem. Detectives from London were placed on a steamboat that was rumored to carry the stone, where a parcel was ceremoniously placed in the Captain's safe and guarded throughout the entire journey. However this was a diversionary tactic. The stone on that ship was a fake, meant to attract those who would be interested in stealing it. The actual diamond was sent to England in a plain box via parcel post, albeit registered.
It was cut into three large parts by Asscher Brothers of Amsterdam, and eventually into 9 large gem-quality stones and a number of smaller fragments. At the time, technology had not yet evolved to guarantee quality of the modern standard, and cutting the diamond was considered difficult and risky. To enable Asscher to cleave the diamond in one blow, an incision was made, half an inch deep. Then, a specifically designed knife was placed in the incision and the diamond was split in one heavy blow. The diamond split through a defective spot, which was shared in both halves of the diamond.
The story goes that when the diamond was split, the knife broke during the first attempt. "The tale is told of Joseph Asscher, the greatest cleaver of the day," wrote Matthew Hart in his book Diamond: A Journey to the Heart of an Obsession, "that when he prepared to cleave the largest diamond ever known, the 3,106 carats (621.2 g) Cullinan, he had a doctor and nurse standing by and when he finally struck the diamond and it broke perfectly in two, he fainted dead away." Lord Ian Balfour, in his book "Famous Diamonds" (2000), dispels the fainting story, stating it was more likely Joseph Asscher would have celebrated, opening a bottle of champagne.
The largest polished gem from the stone is named Cullinan I or the Great Star of Africa, and at 530.4 carats (106.08 g) was the largest polished diamond in the world until the 1985 discovery of the Golden Jubilee Diamond, 545.67 carats (109.134 g), also from the Premier Mine. Cullinan I is now mounted in the head of the Sceptre with the Cross. The second largest gem from the Cullinan stone, Cullinan II or the Second Star of Africa, at 317.4 carats (63.48 g), is the fourth largest polished diamond in the world. Both gems are in the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. The Cullinan was split and cut into 9 major stones and 96 smaller stones. Edward VII had the Cullinan I and Cullinan II set respectively into the Sceptre with the Cross and the Imperial State Crown, while the remainder of the seven larger stones and the 96 smaller brilliants remained in the possession of the Dutch diamond cutting firm of Messrs I. J. Asscher of Amsterdam who had split and cut the Cullinan, until the South African Government bought these stones and the High Commissioner of the Union of South Africa presented them to Queen Mary on 28 June 1910.
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