There is a great photo of the Queen of England on an official royal website about the crown jewels – it’s her official portrait at the time of her coronation in 1952 and she’s wearing her two-pound crown and carrying the royal scepter and she looks like she could whack any unruly varlet who got near her pretty good.
In the middle of the crown is a very white diamond about as big as an egg – that’s the little Cullinan, aka the Lesser Star of Africa – and because it’s so different in color from the rest of the stones on the crown and because its cut is so modern, it stands out like a third eye.
The scepter stone is the Great Star of Africa, the Cullinan I. The Cullinans are two of the nine stones created by the cleaving of the 3,100 carat stone discovered on this date in 1905 at the Premier mine in South Africa.
At 530.4 carats, the Cullinan I was the biggest diamond in the world for almost eighty years. But in 1985 the same mine produced another giant rock which was cut and polished into the Golden Jubilee diamond, which had 15.6 more carats.
But the Golden Jubilee is golden-brown – it looks like a giant topaz, which happens to be what its owner, the King of Thailand, told the populace it was so they wouldn’t think he was throwing money around.
And max, it’s worth about $12 mill, while the Cullinan I will cost you $400 mill if the Queen ever puts it on eBay. The crown jewels, btw, are collectively worth about $2.5 billion. But of course they don’t actually belong to the Queen – every sovereign holds things in trust.
When the Cullinan was discovered, it was named for the former bricklayer-construction magnate named Thomas Cullinan who owned the Premier. The mine manager got a two thousand pound bonus and the Transvaal government paid 150,000 pounds for it, then gave it to Edward VII.
There are actually two pretty funny stories associated with the Cullinan, which is unusual, since the history around most diamonds is more often tragic, tense, outrageous or just plain immoral.
The first concerns the mine itself: it was on land owned by a Boer farmer named Joachim Prinsloo and he refused to sell to Cullinan in spite of the the latter’s extremely generous offer. Prinsloo wasn’t just being stubborn – years before he’d been doing pretty well on his first farm when gold was discovered next door and he was so besieged with offers he finally gave in and sold up, moved, and started farming again. This time, diamonds were found nearby and once again, the offers were relentless, so by the time Cullinan came calling, Prinsloo was on his third farm and really tired of moving.
After he died, his daughter sold the farm to Cullinan.
Finally, when the Cullinan was sent to the King, a well-publicized, special steamboat was chartered and fully equipped with armed guards to protect the stone on its trip to England. That of course was a red herring – the diamond had actually been sent parcel post, although it was registered.