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By Cheryl Kahla

Content Strategist

Cullinan diamond: Royal Sceptre’s crown jewel with controversial past

The Cullinan diamond has a history entwined with colonialism and apartheid. Here's what you need to know.

In the world of gems, the Cullinan diamond (also known as the Star of Africa) boasts a captivating history, one that’s not without its fair share of controversy.

It’s worth noting the diamond’s history is undeniably entwined with the dark legacy of colonialism and apartheid.

Cullinan diamond’s history

Discovered in 1905 at the Premier Mine, it remains the largest gem-quality rough diamond ever found, weighing in at a staggering 3,106.75 carats, or approximately 622 grams.

The diamond was named after Sir Thomas Cullinan, the mine’s owner, before the rock found its way into the hands of the Transvaal Colony government.

A ‘token of loyalty’, or was it stolen?

It was subsequently gifted to King Edward VII in 1907 as a “token of loyalty” and has been in the possession of the British royal family ever since.

Star of Africa diamond in the imperial crown (also known as the Cullinan Diamond)
The Imperial State Crown is brought to the Sovereign’s Entrance of the House of Lords on 19 December 2019. Photo: AFP/POOL/Victoria Jones

Interestingly, the man responsible for this transfer was none other than Louis Botha, the Prime Minister of the Transvaal Colony.

On Sunday, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) said Botha was an apartheid criminal who had no legitimate claim to the diamond.

After the diamond was gifted to the British Monarchy, master diamond cutter Joseph Asscher was selected to meticulously cut and polish the colonial peace offering.

From one diamond, nine emerged

The end result? Nine large stones and numerous smaller ones.

These extraordinary stones have long captured the public’s imagination, especially during significant royal events such as King Charles III’s recent coronation.

King Charles III wearing the Star of Africa diamond (Cullinan Diamond) during his coronation
King Charles III wearing the Imperial State Crown and carrying the Sovereign’s Orb and Sceptre on 6 May 2023 after his coronation. Photo: AFP/POOL/Ben Stansall

Great Star of Africa

The most significant of these gems, the Cullinan I (or Great Star of Africa), weighs 530.2 carats and graces the British Sovereign’s Royal Sceptre.

The same sceptre wielded by King Charles III on the day of his coronation (refer to the article’s cover image).

King Charles coronation Cullinan diamonds South Africa
The coffin of Queen Elizabeth II with the Imperial State Crown resting on top is seen as it is carried inside Westminster Abbey in London on 19 September 2022I. Photo: AFP/POOL/Hannah McKay

Lesser Star of Africa

The Cullinan II, or Lesser Star of Africa, weighing 317.4 carats, adorns the Imperial State Crown.

Both are part of the British Crown Jewels, and as such, symbolise the British monarchy’s (ill-claimed) grandeur and influence.

imperial state crown
The Imperial State Crown was worn by the late Queen Elizabeth II during important events. Photo: AFP/POOL/Johnny Green

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