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HISTORY

The Cullinan Diamond: the dark story behind Queen Elizabeth’s most valuable jewels

The Cullinan Diamond is still the largest ever found, all its pieces belong to the Royal Family although they’ve never accepted its dark origins.

Without a doubt, the British royal jewelry collection is one of the most stunning and valuable ones in the entire world. With gems that date back centuries that also hold incredible historical value, to more recent commissions, Queen Elizabeth’s collection is definitely one of the most expensive ones.

Now, it’s easy to get dazzled by the beauty of these jewels to the point that very few question the origins of these items. Of course, for Queen Elizabeth, most of these were actually inherited or gifted to her, but the origins of most of her pieces hold a very dark and painful past that the monarchy doesn’t seem to be wanting to recognize. That is the stolen goods taken during the Colonial yolk that still decorate their palaces and embellish their bodies.

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One of these magnificent pieces is the Cullinan Diamond; up until now, the largest diamond ever found.

The Cullinan Diamond

Adorning the Queen’s Crown, the royal scepter, brooches, and many other jewels of the British Royal collection, the Cullinan Diamond is only one of the many examples of goods stolen by European colonizers from Africa.

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Weighing 3,106 carats, the Cullinan Diamond, originally named Star of Africa, was unearthed from a South African mine in 1905. The large diamond was later renamed the Cullinan Diamond in honor of the mining company chairman Thomas Cullinan.

Legend has it, that the rough diamond was so big that Cullinan even thought it was just a type of crystal and he decided to throw it away from the window. On a second look, he realized he might’ve found (figuratively speaking because he did nothing to obtain it) the largest diamond unearthed in history; and he did indeed.

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The size of the diamond was so massive that it had to be cut into different pieces to make it wearable, but not having an expert to make the precise cuts, the diamond was stored for two years.

A “gift” to the King

According to the official story, in 1907, the government of the Transvaal Colony (still owned by the British), decided to give the diamond to King Edward VII as a token of friendship and good faith after the events of the Second Boer War, which was violent and painful war. Naturally, more than being a gift given by the South African people, it was still a colonial transaction.

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Still, King Edward was reluctant to accept the gift knowing the political implications the war had had. However, Winston Churchill, the then Colonial Under-Secretary, insisted and Edward accepted. Having the means to do so, Edward finally commissioned the Asscher brothers, two famed Dutch jewelers, to cut the large diamond into nine pieces.

After a movie-worthy adventure to take the diamond from London to Amsterdam, and eight months of non-stopping work, the Asscher brothers managed to split the diamond into nine gorgeous pieces. In 1909, marking the celebration of the King’s 66th birthday, the two largest pieces were presented to Edward. The Cullinan I, a pear-shaped diamond of 530.2 carats was placed in the Sovereign’s Sceptre. The Cullinan II was cut in a cushion shape that weighed 317.4 carats; it was placed in the Imperial State Crown. Both are still used by Queen Elizabeth today.

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As for the remaining seven diamonds, King Edward, later on, bought the Cullinan VI, an 11.5-carat marquise-cut diamond he gifted to his wife Queen Alexandra, and left the other pieces to the Asscher brothers as payment for their work. Still, it would be just a matter of time for the Royal Family to put their hands on the rest.

Queen Mary, King Edward’s daughter-in-law, bought all the remaining Cullinan diamonds to the Ashers. In 1910, King Edward passed and his son George V, took the throne, to celebrate, Mary gave the King the diamonds. Queen Mary, eventually inherited the Cullinan VI from Queen Alexandra.

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When Mary passed in 1953, one year after she ascended the throne, Queen Elizabeth inherited all of them. Many of the Cullinan diamonds are still worn by the monarch today to which she simply refers to them as “Granny’s chips.”

The horrors of diamond mining

Yes, we can say that The Royal Family was gifted the diamond as a token of good faith and that under that lovely narrative there’s nothing wrong about it. However, we mustn’t forget that it was gifted by other Brits that still got hold of South Africa at the time.

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We must not forget either how the mining business worked (and still does) at that time. African workers were pretty much enslaved (although not with that term by that time) to unearth these pieces that would be extracted from their land and sent back to the colonizer countries of Europe. These miners were forced to work long shifts and later on were x-rayed daily (exposing them to the risks of constant radiation) to make sure they weren’t stealing what was theirs by right.

It’s been very easy and comfortable for the Royal Family to hide behind the “it’s history” narrative, but if the monarchy really wants to move on from their historical crimes and get modernized as they so claim, they have to recognize these crimes and actually do some reparations instead of parading their loot as nothing had happened.

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