The two largest diamonds in the Crown Jewels, Cullinan I (530.2 carats) and Cullinan II (317.4 carats) were both cut from one enormous diamond, unearthed in 1905. Today they adorn the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross and the Imperial State Crown.
Mined in present day South Africa, the Cullinan was the largest rough diamond ever found - and initially thought to be a hoax. The Surface Manager at the Premier Mine had to persuade his colleagues to weigh the stone after one exclaimed ‘this is no diamond!’ and threw it out of the window. The rough diamond weighed an astonishing 3,106 carats (621g).
This gigantic diamond, named after Thomas Cullinan, the chairman of the Premier Mine, caused an international sensation. A decoy travelled to Europe on a heavily guarded ship, while the real diamond was sent by ordinary parcel post!
Given by the Transvaal Government to Edward VII for his 66th birthday, the rough diamond was sent to Amsterdam to be cut. After eight months’ intensive work, Asscher’s produced 9 major diamonds (Cullinan I-IX), 96 small brilliants, and 9 carats of unpolished fragments.
The Koh-i-Noor (also known as Koh-i-Nûr)
The most famous diamond in the Crown Jewels, the 105.6 carat Koh-i-Noor diamond is set today in the Crown of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (1937). It is said to be unlucky for men to wear this diamond as it has a long and bloody history.
This legendary diamond, originating in the Golconda mines in central southern India, has passed through the hands of conquering Mughal princes, Iranian warriors, Afghan rulers and Punjabi Maharajas before coming to Britain as the spoils of Empire. The Koh-i-Noor, (meaning ‘Mountain of Light’ in Persian), was surrendered in 1849 to Queen Victoria’s representatives following the Anglo-Sikh wars in the Punjab.
Displayed in London at the Great Exhibition in 1851, the traditional rose-cut of the diamond failed to impress visitors expecting more sparkle. The following year the diamond was removed from its Indian setting, which is also on display in the Jewel House, and re-cut as an oval brilliant.
Discover the stories of the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London. Entrance to the Crown Jewels exhibition is included in your Tower of London admission ticket and is free for members. Find out more >
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View our Crown Jewels slideshow >
Find out more about the Crown Jewels (you will be taken to the Royal Collection's website) >
The re-presentation of the Jewel House at HM Tower of London in 2012, to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of HM The Queen, was made possible thanks to the generosity of De Beers Family of Companies with Forevermark.