The story of the Star of Africa starts with the largest diamond crystal ever found. It came from a South African mine in 1905. The crystal weighed about 1 1/3 pounds, and was 3,106 carats. It was dubbed “The Cullinan,” after the owner of the mine. The entire Cullinan was sold to the Transvaal government in the Republic of South Africa.
What do you give the King of England on his birthday? He’s already got plenty of beaded jewelry and gems. The largest uncut diamond in the world should be perfect. In 1907, the Cullinan went to Edward VII, insured for a whopping $1,250,000.
Although King Edward had a vast collection of diamonds and beaded jewelry in the Crown Jewels, it was hard to deny the Cullinan was something very special. He entrusted it to Asscher’s Diamond Company in Amsterdam, which had a reputation for cutting special gems for beaded jewelry settings.
Despite his experience, Mr. Asscher was intimidated by the job. He spent a full six months just examining the stone, trying to figure out the best place to cut it. The story goes that when he finally placed a heavy-duty cleaver in a small notch in the stone and thunked it with a hammer, nothing happened. When he tried again, the stone broke where he wanted, but Mr. Asscher was so stressed by the situation that he fainted.
In the end, the Cullinan produced nine massive gems. The stone also yielded 95 smaller gems and 9.5 carats worth of unpolished diamond stone. Some of the gems, especially the smaller ones, were set in beaded jewelry arrangements, but the largest stone—which weighs 530.20 carats—found a home with the Crown Jewels in the Sovereign’s Royal Sceptre. From that point on, it’s been known as the Star of Africa.
The other major stones have been worn by royalty in beaded jewelry, crowns, tiaras, pendants and other ornaments. The Star of Africa is the second largest faceted diamond in existence, superceded only by the Golden Jubilee.