The Cullinan was discovered in 1905 by chance during an inspection of the South African Premier mine. A worker excitedly led manager Frederick Wells to a shining object in the wall of the mine while he was conducting an inspection. Wells immediately recognized the object as a diamond and dug it out of the wall with his pocket knife. What came out of the wall was the largest diamond ever discovered: 3,106 carats, or over half a pound of diamond!
The stone is called the Cullinan after Thomas Cullinan, chairman of the mine at the time. The stone was worth so much money that Cullinan had trouble finding a buyer. The South African government bought the diamond for 1.8 million pounds and offered it as a birthday present to King Edward VII in 1907. Edward VII hired Joseph Asscher, president of the Asscher Diamond Company, to cut the rough Cullinan diamond.
Asscher studied the stone for months before making any cuts. He finally decided to cleave the stone in three and was ready to make the final cut. He inserted a steel knife into the wedge of the diamond and hit it with a heavy rod. He hit the knife so hard that it shattered, leaving the stone perfectly intact. Asscher, thinking he had shattered the diamond instead of the knife, fainted on the spot. He soon regained composure and was able to finish the job. The cut stones were then sent to Henri Koe for polishing.
Several stones were created from that large rough diamond. The largest is a 530.2-carat pear-shaped diamond named Cullinan I; it remains the largest polished white diamond in the world. It was also called the Great Star of Africa and the eight other stones from the same rough diamond were known as the Lesser Stars of Africa. Individually these stones are named the Cullinan II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, and IX. The Cullinan II was polished into a 317.4-carat cushion-shaped diamond and was set in the British crown. The Cullinan III became a 94.4-carat pear and was given to Queen Mary in 1910. The Cullinan IV weighed 63.6 carats and was set into a pendant brooche. The Cullinan V was an 18.8-carat stone originally set into a brooch for Queen Mary and later replaced the Koh-I-Noor in Queen Elizabeth’s crown. The Cullinan VI weighed 11.5 carats and was given by the King to Queen Alexandra. The Cullinan VII and VIII were set into a brooche together, and finally the Cullianan IX was polised into a 4.39-carat pear shape for Queen Mary.