The largest diamond in the world, known as the South Star, measuring about 3,106 carats and measuring 10.1 x 6.35 x 5.9 centimeters, was found on January 26, 1905 by Frederick Wells, surface manager of the Premier Diamond Mining Company, a company that carried out mining work in the then British colony Transvaal, near Pretoria. At first, he thought it was crystal.
Then, when he realized what it was, he understood its true value. That's when he took it to general manager McHardy. That same day, the diamond found its way into the hands of the company's founder, Thomas Cullinan, who happened to be visiting the mine that day.
Fred Wells (right) was the one who found the diamond, McHardy (middle) was the manager of the Premier Mine company and Thomas Cullinan (left) was the founder of that mining company.
From the beginning, they understood that it was almost impossible to sell this immense jewel. However, they managed to get rid of it just two years later, when the Transvaal government spent 150,000 pounds to buy it, as it wanted to make a gift to the then king of England, Edward VII, to demonstrate its loyalty and strengthen relations. The monarch received the gift in 1907, for his 66th birthday.
The precious gift was sent to England in a simple box by postal parcel so as not to raise suspicions. In parallel, several London detectives were ordered to carry a replica publicly to attract attention.
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Once the diamond arrived in Britain, the prestigious Dutch firm Royal Asscher Diamond Company was commissioned to cut it. It was Joseph Asscher who had the responsibility of cutting the enormous precious stone in February 1908. After a few failed attempts, he managed to break the gem into two halves. Then he broke it into nine large pieces and 96 tiny fragments of less than a carat.
Mr Asscher was in charge of breaking the diamond. Photo: Royal Collection Trust
“It took four days to prepare the slot for the carving knife, and the first blow broke the knife instead of the diamond. For the next eight months, three men worked 14 hours a day to cut and polish nine large stones from the original diamond. “97 small brilliants and some unpolished fragments were also created,” reads the website of the Royal Collection Trust, in charge of guarding the Royal Collection of Great Britain.
The Cullinan I, the largest of all, is housed in the Scepter of the Cross, in the Royal Treasury of Great Britain. Photo: Royal Collection Trust
Each of those nine pieces was called Cullinan, in homage to the president of the mining company that began working in the Praetorian mines. The largest and most valuable of the fragments, the Cullinan I, of 530.20 carats, is found in the Scepter of the Cross, one of the most important jewels of the British treasury. Meanwhile, the Cullinan II is embedded in the Crown of the British Imperial State. The Culligan III and IV are part of a brooch that belongs to the royal treasury.
South Africa's claim
Since Queen Elizabeth II died on September 8, 2022, South Africa's demands for the repatriation of the jewels have intensified. In that sense, more than 6,000 people signed a petition for The Star of the South to be returned and displayed in a South African museum.
Leigh-Ann Mathys, spokesperson for the South African political party The Economic Freedom Fighters, said in an interview with CNN: “Our call is for the repatriation of all colonial theft, of which the theft of the Great Star of Africa is part.”
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At the Diamond Museum in Cape Town, you can see a replica of the Cullinan rough diamond in its original size before being fragmented into different pieces.