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Top 5 most expensive diamonds: No. 3 – The Cullinan Diamond

June 8, 2017/ BY Frank van Poorten

The third place in the Top 5 of most expensive diamonds in the worlds goes to the Cullinan Diamond. This diamond nowadays weighs 530.20 carat. Its current value is 400 million dollar.

The history of this beautiful diamond starts January 26, 1905. In the Premier mine in the small town of Cullinan, South Africa, a superintendent makes a remarkable discovery. Just nine meters below the surface of the earth, he discovers a gigantic diamond. The superintendent weighs the diamond. It turns out to be no less than 3106.75 carat. The owner of the mine, Thomas Cullinan, decided to name the diamond after him. That’s how “The Cullinan Diamond” got his name.

Premier mine Africa in Cullinan

Up to this day, the Cullinan is the biggest jewelry quality raw diamond every found. The Sergio Diamond is larger with 3367 carat, but the quality of this black stone isn’t suitable for jewelry. Besides, many think the Cullinan Diamond used to be even bigger. Because of the flat side of the diamond, it appears that there used to be another part attached to the diamond.

The Cullinan becomes a Royal Diamond

In the early days, it was custom to donate the large diamonds that were found to monarchs and rulers. The Cullinan became the new acquisition of the English King Edward VII. Fearing theft, Thomas also sent a fake diamond to England. The real stone just went with the regular mail. The fake stone, however, he sent in a heavily guarded safe to England.

raw diamond in rocks

The Amsterdam dilemma 

In 1907, King Edward gave the Amsterdam diamond polishing factory Asscher the command to cut and polish the Cullinan Diamond. At that time, Joseph Asscher was one of the better and renowned diamond workers. He created a small window on the diamond. This way, he was able to determine the purity of the stone and see how the fracture lines were situated. However, this wasn’t easy. Asscher carried the stone in his pocket for months to look at it every moment he had.  

Joseph cuts the knot… and the Cullinan

After walking with it for a couple of months, Joseph Asscher decided to take the risk. On January 10, 1908, he made a small nick in the stone. He had decided to split the diamond. The suspense was killing while Asscher was sweating bullets. It’s not hard to see why: at the smallest wrong estimation, the diamond would pulverize or shatter. It would lose immediately all its value. Not to mention Asscher’s good name. Still, he needed to cut the diamond. Joseph put his gap knife in the nick and gave it one big hit with his wooden hammer…

diamond cutter hammering on a large piece of diamond

The bang of the Cullinan

The bang literally was a hammer blow. Because of all the tension, Asscher lost consciousness. When he woke up again, his relief could not be bigger: the diamond turned out to be perfectly split! From that moment on, the original Cullinan no longer existed. Instead of one large stone, the diamond was cut into nine large diamonds and 96 small ones.

The largest stone of the nine big ones is what is now referred to as the Cullinan. Officially it’s name is “The Cullinan I”. This is a 530.20 carat diamond and also known as “The Star of Africa”. The second largest diamond is called “The Cullinan II” and “The Lesser Star of Africa”. All nine big diamonds are incorporated into the English crown jewels. The Cullinan I is in the British King’s scepter. In addition, sometimes the queen wears it as a brooch. All Cullinan parts are in an exhibition in the London Tower. Millions of tourists come to see these diamonds every year.

Asscher’s cutting wages

The large diamonds were going back to England. However, a couple of the 96 small diamonds and some cutting residues stayed at the Asscher factory. Joseph got to keep these as the payment for his good grinding work. Eventually though, the English King bought all of the residues from the Cullinan Diamond from Asscher. The present value of all Cullinan parts together is about two billion dollars.

The Cullinan at Royal Coster Diamonds

The Real Cullinan diamonds are at display at the Tower of London. However, in our diamond museum, we have a replica of the scepter with the Cullinan in it. In addition to this and replicas of, for example, British crowns, we have a special collection of real diamond artifacts. Check these items out during a free tour through our diamond polishing factory.

The Cullinan Diamond on black background

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