How Europeans took the world’s largest diamond from South Africa in 1906 and made it the British Crown Jewel

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Queen Elizabeth II wearing the Imperial State Crown after her coronation

As Africa was recovering from the wounds inflicted by slavery on the continent, colonization crept in, and till date, most African countries that were subjected to European imperialist aggression and military invasions continue to counts their loses.

This was especially true as Europeans, before leaving Africa made sure they amassed any valuable item they could lay their hands on.

Though most African states have successfully recovered some of their “taken” valuables from colonial masters, the world’s largest diamond referred to as the ‘Star of Africa’ that was taken from South Africa during colonization might never leave the British crown jewel collection.

Today, used by the British Monarchy in their Crown Jewels selection, the Cullinan diamonds as they are formally known remains the largest diamond ever found.

The stone was discovered near Pretoria in South Africa on 26 January 1905.

According to the Royal Collection Trust, in “its uncut state, it weighed 3,106 metric carats and boasted a size of 10.1 x 6.35 x 5.9 cm. This scale, coupled with its extraordinary blue-white color and exceptional clarity, made it the most celebrated diamond in the world.”

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Imperial State Crown

As history holds, after the Boer republics, Orange Free State and the South African Republic were defeated in battle by the British who went on to institute their leadership throughout modern-day South Africa . In 1907, the Cullinan was presented to King Edward VII by the Government of the Transvaal (a former province of South Africa bordering with Botswana and Zimbabwe to the North.)

Britain insists it was a symbolic gesture intended to heal the rift between Britain and South Africa following the Boer War. However, history recounts that the British were the ones paying repatriations.

The stone was taken under heavy British police escort to Sandringham and formally presented on the King’s 66th birthday.

Due to the size and composition of the rare gem, it took the next eight months with three men working 14 hours a day to cut and polish nine large stones from the original diamond. Each of these stones was given a number from I to IX, and today they are still referred to in this way. 97 small brilliants and some unpolished fragments were also created.

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Sovereign Sceptre

Today, the South African diamond plays a vital rule in British monarchy as it lights up the Imperial State Crown which holds 317.4 carats Cullinan II on the front.

Also, the Sovereign’s Sceptre that was originally made for the coronation of King Charles II in 1661 was redesigned in 1910 after the discovery of the Great Star of Africa”. The Cullinan I diamond can be removed from the Sceptre and worn as a brooch.

The 9 diamond pieces from the star of Africa
The 9 diamond pieces from the star of Africa

The remaining numbered diamonds were kept by Asschers (the diamond cutter) as payment for their work.

Cullinan VI and VIII were later brought privately by King Edward VII as a gift for Queen Alexandra, and the others were acquired by the South African Government and again back to the British. According to the Royal Collection Trust, the remaining piece from the “Star of Africa” was given to Queen Mary in 1910, in memory of the Inauguration of the Union.

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