In the sparkling realm of diamonds, there is one that is simply beyond any superlatives: the Cullinan, the largest diamond ever found.
With its mind-boggling 3.106 carats of absolute purity, this perfect stone could hardly go unnoticed.
Yet, this is precisely what nearly happened, on that late afternoon of January 26, 1905 …
THE CULLINAN DIAMOND
Faithful glass replica of the Cullinan rough diamond . Photo: Dirk Wiersma / Science Photo Library
The “Diamond Rush”
We’re at the dawn of the 20th century, not far from the city of Pretoria, South Africa …
Eversince the discovery of diamond deposits some 30 years earlier, the region has been subject to an impressive “Diamond Rush”. Many farmers and landowners looking for an easy profit, quickly give in to the temptation of selling their plots to mining companies rapidly increasing in numbers.
However Willem Prinsloo, owner of the Elandsfontein farm, is one of those who systematically rejects all prospectors wanting to venture on his land.
At his death in 1902, a building contractor named Thomas Cullinan, buys the farm for 52,000 Sterling Pounds and founds the Premier (Transvaal) Diamond Mining Company, on 1 December this year.
In no time, that mine becomes one of the most prolific mines in South Africa, employing over 2,000 people by the end of 1904.
Thursday, January 26, 1905. As every day for the past two years, Captain Frederick Wells superintendent makes his routine inspection of the mine.
On that warm late afternoon, the sun gently rocks the plain by its summer heat…
Suddenly, at 18ft-deep and almost under Wells’ feet, a sunbeam reflects an exceptionally fiery sparkle from the wall of the shaft! Thinking the miners are pulling a prank on him, Wells decides to go down the gallery to remove what he believes to be a large piece of glass with the help of his pocket knife…
However the crystal he pulls out is so big that on a hunch he decides to keep it and have it analyzed…The verdict comes back unequivocal: Wells has laid his hands on the biggest diamond ever found!
Weighing 3,106 carats, perfectly colorless and flawless, the diamond dimensions are equally dizzying: 41/8 inches long , 37/8 inches wide and 21/4 cm thick !
Birth of the Cullinan
The Cullinan diamond is finally named after the owner of the mine where it was found and then sold to the Transvaal government for 150,000 Sterling Pounds.
Frederick Wells is granted a generous 3,500 Sterling Pound reward in recognition for his exceptional find.
As for Thomas Cullinan , he was soon to be knighted by the British Crown…
Since then, the Cullinan diamond has consistently kept fascinating gemstone lovers from aroud the world, so much so that there are still countless ongoing speculations about its original size. Indeed, at the time of the Cullinan’s discovery, one of its sides was surprisingly flat – as if the diamond had broken at that point – suggesting that it may have been much bigger!
But this is all part of the Cullinan’s legend…
THE CULLINAN DIAMOND RETURNS TO ITS OWNER
F. Wells ( right) symbolically hands the Cullinan to W. McHardy (middle) , who in turn gives it to T. Cullinan (left)
In the second part of this story, we will continue to travel down the trail of this fabulous diamond, from its his incredible journey to England to the hands of the man who gave birth to some of the most famous and most beautiful diamonds ever…