Jewellery Studies Past Issues - 2015

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2015. The Cullinan Diamond and its true story. Boris Gorelik

110 years after the discovery of this exceptional crystal, perhaps the time has come to tell the true story of the Cullinan diamond, from which nine major gemstones were created, known as Cullinan I – IX, which are today found set in the Sovereign’s Sceptre, Imperial State Crown and other major jewels belonging to Her Majesty Queen Elisabeth II.

Drawing on hitherto unexplored sources from 1905-10, Gorelik has tried to verify the basic and generally accepted facts about the Cullinan Diamond as well as bringing to light some unknown but relevant details.

The author has managed to trace the last surviving grandchild of Frederick Wells, the surface manager at the mine who has been credited with discovering the crystal. She related the story she had heard from her parents that indicates that the stone was first spotted by a black mineworker. The latter warned Wells against removing the diamond from the side of the pit. The manager did not take his advice, and tragic, even shocking, events ensued.

Thanks to previously confidential documents from the National Archives of South Africa, we can now better understand the reasons why General Louis Botha (1862-1919), a former Boer military leader and ‘bitter-ender’, lobbied the idea of presenting the diamond to the British sovereign as a sign of loyalty from the new colony. It appears that Botha, then Prime Minister of the Transvaal, believed that the grand gesture would incline public opinion in Britain to support the provision of a major loan that his government needed.

Botha took great efforts to prevent even the tiniest parts of the Cullinan from falling into the hands of anyone outside the Royal Family. That is why his government purchased every tiny fragment that remained after the cutting of the huge crystal. These ‘loose ends’ are now in the collection of the National Geoscience Museum in Pretoria, the only place in the world outside the UK where parts of the original Cullinan Diamond can be found.

Boris Gorelik is a Russian writer and researcher based in Moscow and Johannesburg. Born in Sverdlovsk (USSR), he received his MA in linguistics from the Moscow State University. In 2004, he was awarded with the Candidate of Sciences degree in history from the Institute for African Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, for his research into the history of Russian emigration to South Africa.