The Famous Gem That Almost Wasn't: The Cullinan Diamond
It's shocking to think that the Cullinan diamond, a major piece of geological and British history, almost remained buried. Estimated to be worth billions of dollars in total, the original uncut stone was over 3,106 carats and weighed 1.369 pounds. That's a lot of sparkle!
Known as the Star of Africa, this amazing stone almost went undiscovered. In January of 1905, Captain Frederick Wells, the Premier Mine superintendent, was making his regular rounds when he saw what he thought was a glass shard. The piece was sticking out of the mine wall, and Wells thought one of the workers had stuck it there as a joke. Using only his pocket knife, he pried the piece out of the wall and was stunned when he realized it was actually an enormous diamond almost 4 inches long, over 2 inches wide and nearly 3 inches high - twice the size of any known diamond in its day.
The Cullinan (named after the mine's owner, Thomas Cullinan) has since been cut into 9 large stones and a number of smaller stones - the GIA states there are 105 in total; 96 are in private collections - and many are considered priceless.
Most famous of all the cut stones from this massive piece is Cullinan I, also called the Great Star of Africa, which is valued at over $400 million. This incredible pear-shaped gem is over 530 carats and multitasks with two distinct purposes - it sits prestigiously at the head of the British Sceptre, but its platinum setting has small loops so it can be removed from the sceptre to be worn as a pendant by a head of state.
Cullinan II, called the Second Star of Africa and the second largest polished stone, is in excess of 317 carats in size. This cushion-cut gem has the distinction of being set in the front circlet of the British Imperial State Crown.
Cullinans III and IV, the Lesser Stars of Africa and affectionately called "Granny's Chips" by Queen Elizabeth II, are a mere 94.4 carats and 63.6 carats respectively. The pear-cut Cullinan III originally sparkled from Queen Mary's coronation crown; it now proudly shares space in a brooch with Cullinan IV, a cushion-cut square diamond. This stunning brooch has been worn several times by Queen Elizabeth II.
And here's a funny factoid: back in 1953, Queen Elizabeth II inherited the 6.8 carat Cullinan VIII brooch but she never wears it. Why? Because, she said, "it gets in the soup."
All nine of the largest Cullinan diamonds belong to the British monarchy; when not in use, they are sometimes on display in the Tower of London or the Buckingham Palace exhibition.
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