The Cullinan II Diamond: History and Major Facts

The Cullinan II diamond, often referred to as the “Second Star of Africa,” is a marvel of gemological history, embodying not just the opulence and grandeur of the British Crown Jewels but also a rich tapestry of geopolitical, cultural, and historical narratives.

In the article below, WHE delves into the origins, journey, and significance of the Cullinan II diamond, unraveling the facets of its storied past and its esteemed place among the regalia of the British monarchy.

As an object of beauty and fascination, the Cullinan II continues to captivate the imagination, inviting reflection on the multifaceted dimensions of history, culture, and power that it represents.

Discovery of the Cullinan Diamond

The story of the Cullinan II begins with the discovery of the Cullinan diamond, the largest gem-quality rough diamond ever found, weighing an astonishing 3,106.75 carats. Unearthed in 1905 at the Premier No.2 mine in Cullinan, South Africa, the diamond was named after Sir Thomas Cullinan, the mine’s chairman. The discovery of such a colossal diamond captured the world’s imagination and spotlighted the burgeoning diamond industry in South Africa, which was then under British dominion.

The Journey to London

The Cullinan diamond’s journey from the mine to the British Crown Jewels is a narrative filled with intrigue and meticulous planning. In 1907, the Transvaal Colony government purchased the diamond and gifted it to King Edward VII as a token of loyalty and in a bid to foster goodwill between Britain and South Africa following the Boer War. The diamond’s transportation to London was a covert operation shrouded in secrecy to deter theft, involving a decoy stone and a secure voyage.

Cutting the Cullinan

The task of cutting the Cullinan diamond was entrusted to Joseph Asscher & Co. in Amsterdam, renowned for their expertise in diamond cleaving. The cutting process, which commenced in 1908, was a feat of precision and skill, yielding nine major stones and numerous smaller fragments. The largest of these, the Cullinan I or “Great Star of Africa,” and the second largest, the Cullinan II, were to become integral parts of the British Crown Jewels.

Image: A photo of Joseph Asscher splitting the diamonds.

The Cullinan II Diamond

The Cullinan II, a rectangular cushion-cut diamond weighing 317.4 carats, is remarkable for its exceptional clarity and luminous quality. Its incorporation into the Imperial State Crown symbolizes not only the monarch’s authority but also the enduring legacy of the British Empire and its complex relationships with its colonies, exemplified by the diamond’s South African origins.

The Imperial State Crown

The Imperial State Crown, which houses the Cullinan II, is a symbol of the monarchy’s role and continuity, worn by the reigning sovereign at the State Opening of Parliament and other state occasions.

The crown itself, with its storied history and evolution, reflects the adaptation and enduring nature of the British monarchy through centuries of change.

The presence of the Cullinan II in this crown further accentuates its significance, linking the monarchy to its colonial past and the wealth and resources that flowed from it.

Symbolism and Significance

The Cullinan II’s inclusion in the crown carries deep symbolic weight. It represents the historical ties between Britain and its former colonies, the wealth and power of the Empire, and the complex narratives of colonialism and liberation.

Moreover, the diamond embodies the craftsmanship, artistry, and technological prowess involved in diamond cutting, showcasing human ingenuity in transforming a rough stone into a symbol of unparalleled beauty and opulence.

Public and Cultural Impact

The Cullinan II, along with the other Crown Jewels, holds a fascination for the public, symbolizing not just the pomp and circumstance of the British monarchy but also a tangible connection to history and tradition.

The jewels, and the Cullinan II in particular, are central to the ceremonial aspects of the monarchy, playing a key role in the pageantry that surrounds the British royal family and attracting millions of visitors to the Tower of London, where they are displayed.

Controversies and Debates

The story of the Cullinan II is not without its controversies, particularly regarding the ethics of diamond mining, the legacy of colonialism, and the ownership of such artifacts.

The diamond’s origins in South Africa, a country with a complex and often painful history under British rule, raise questions about the restitution of cultural and national treasures and the broader conversation around the legacy of empires and the repatriation of artifacts acquired during colonial times.

Frequently asked questions about the Cullinan II Diamond

These questions cover some of the most common inquiries about the Cullinan II Diamond:

Where is the Cullinan II Diamond set?

The Cullinan II Diamond is set in the front band of the Imperial State Crown, one of the key pieces of the British Crown Jewels used in the coronation ceremonies and other state functions.

How was the Cullinan Diamond discovered?

The Cullinan Diamond was discovered in 1905 at the Premier Mine near Pretoria in South Africa, which was then part of the British Empire’s Transvaal Colony.

Why was the Cullinan II Diamond given to King Edward VII?

The government of the Transvaal gifted the uncut Cullinan Diamond to King Edward VII for his 66th birthday in 1907 as a symbol to mend relations and foster goodwill between England and South Africa after the Anglo-Boer War.

What is the significance of the Cullinan II Diamond?

The Cullinan II Diamond holds historical, cultural, and diplomatic significance, symbolizing not only the wealth and grandeur of the British monarchy but also the complex relationships between Britain and its former colonies, particularly in the context of post-conflict reconciliation.

How big was the original Cullinan Diamond?

The original Cullinan Diamond was the largest rough diamond ever found, weighing 3,106 carats.

Image: A photo of the original rough diamond, Cullinan Diamond, from which the nine major diamonds were cut from.

Are there other notable diamonds cut from the Cullinan Diamond?

Yes, besides the Cullinan II, the most famous is the Cullinan I or the “Great Star of Africa,” the largest clear cut diamond in the world, which is set in the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross. There are nine major stones and 96 smaller stones in total cut from the Cullinan Diamond.

Can the public view the Cullinan II Diamond?

Yes, the public can view the Cullinan II Diamond as part of the Imperial State Crown on display in the Jewel House at the Tower of London, where the Crown Jewels are kept.

Has the Cullinan II Diamond ever been worn by the monarchs?

Yes, the Imperial State Crown featuring the Cullinan II Diamond is worn by the monarch during the State Opening of Parliament and other important state occasions.

What makes the Cullinan II Diamond unique among gemstones?

The Cullinan II Diamond’s exceptional size, clarity, and historical provenance, combined with its setting in a significant symbol of the British monarchy, make it one of the most unique and storied gemstones in the world.

Its placement in the crown not only highlights the diamond’s magnificent beauty but also symbolizes the enduring legacy and continuity of the British monarchy, enriched by its connections to the Commonwealth and its history of international relations.

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