In the previous article, we learned that the discovery of the Cullinan diamond by Frederick Wells, in 1905, was nothing short of a miracle!
As you’re about to read, the events following this historical finding are just as extraordinary and it took all the genius and talent of one single man to complete the legend of this exceptional stone…
A royal birthday gift
After buying the Cullinan for £ 150,000 from Thomas Cullinan’s Premier Diamond Mining Company, Tranvaal’s government’s first intent was to offer it to King Edward VII, on the occasion of his 66th birthday and surely a great opportunity for the young British colony to make a good impression!
KING EDWARD VII
However , the British Parliament , freshly scalded by the Boers War which had just ended in 1902, was quite reluctant to this request. The gift was eventually accepted, after a vote of 42 in favor and 19 votes against .
To repatriate the diamond safely to the UK, the British government agreed to charter a steamer to travel to Transvaal and back, along with several detectives in charge of monitoring the precious cargo.
Except this impressive deployment was only a ruse, as the real diamond was simply mailed to England in a common cardboard box!
The rough diamond was finally presented to King Edward VII on Nov. 9, 1907, who accepted the Cullinan “for [himself] and [his] successors,” and that he will ensure that “this great and unique diamond be kept and preserved among the historical jewels which form the heirlooms of the crown.”
It was now time to turn the rough stone into a precious gem…After consulting many specialists to cut the diamond, the king decided to turn to Dutchman Joseph Asscher, who was considered the best diamond cutter .
Both grateful for the honor and aware of the great responsibility that was his, Asscher and his associates spent nearly three months studying the diamond inside out. A clay replica is even made, to see how the diamond could possibly react when cut.
And after numerous trials and hours of debating, Joseph Asscher was finally ready to take action…
J. Asscher (sitting, right), surrounded by experts , bankers and royal emissaries, studying the Cullinan and thinkinp up his game plan
One Hammer Blow for Eternity
February 10, 1908 , 2:45pm.
Joseph Asscher dons his work apron. He is surrounded by a few people, all sharing a valuable interest with the precious stone, all as nervous and restless as can be!
After spending four harassing days cutting a first incision into the diamond, Asscher is ready to give the fateful hammer blow…
In the workshop, the air is stifling…
Joseph Asscher sets the chisel tip in the incision, then slowly raises his hammer over his head. He takes one last breath, then thrusts the hammer down on the chisel…which breaks against the diamond!
J. Asscher about to give the first blow on the Cullinan diamond
Immediately after he had inspected the diamond and made sure that it had not been damaged, Asscher announced that the cleaving would be postponed, to allow himself to make a bigger chisel.
On February 17, 1908, Joseph Asscher returns to his workshop, alone (except for his notary).
He clamps the Cullinan on his stall again, places the new knife in the diamond’s small incision, raises the hammer and delivers one heavy blow: this time, the Cullinan splits in two perfect pieces!
THE FATEFUL BLOW
J. Asscher strikes the fateful hammer that breaks the Cullinan into 2 halves
Joseph Asscher would eventually cut the Cullinan diamond into 9 large pieces and 96 smaller fragments which would take him no less than 8 months to polish!
In the end, despite incredible pressure from the British Crown – who expected nothing but absolute perfection – and from bankers who’d financed this highly hazardous enterprise, Joseph Asscher brillantly rose to the challenge and proved that he was made from the same material as the incomparable diamond!
BEFORE / AFTER
The 9 largest diamonds from the Cullinan, before and after polishing
In the next and final article dedicated to the Cullinan, we will take a close look at the nine spectacular gems cut from the Cullinan rough diamond, all part of the British Crown Jewels…