A look at the world’s most famous diamonds
Diamonds are timeless and alluring jewels that never cease to fascinate the eye and captivate the heart with their brilliance. Diamonds have been used by authors and poets as themes and images in literature, have been sung about in various popular songs, and film stars and celebrities have heralded their beauty and elegance in films and magazines. Yet how many people actually know where these diamonds come from?
Many of the world’s famous diamonds were mined in South Africa. They were then gifted or sold to kings and queens, and through the years exchanged hands. South Africa is one of the biggest producers of diamonds with the Venetian Mine being the largest producer. In 2004, an incredible 1437kg of diamonds were mined. The world’s biggest diamond, the Cullinan Diamond, was found at the Premier Mine near Cullinan.
Other notable diamonds that were mined in South Africa include:
- The Lesser Star of Africa
- The Hope Diamond
- The Golden Jubilee
- The Taylor-Burton
Join us as we take an in-depth look at some of the world’s most famous diamonds not only mined in South Africa, but all over the world.
The Golden Jubilee
Weighing in at 545.67 carats, this is the largest cut and faceted diamond in the world. It was mined in 1985 from the famous Premier Mine in Cullinan, South Africa. It was exhibited in various parts of the world and was even blessed by Pope John Paul II in the Vatican. It presently resides in the Royal Thai Palace, where it is part of the Crown Jewels.
The Great Star of Africa
Our second largest breath-taking sparkler is the Cullinan I, also called the Star of Africa. At a whopping 530.4 carats, it is pear-shaped and has been cut to have 74 facets (cut sides). It holds pride of place in the Sovereign’s Sceptre, a golden sceptre that is part of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. This beauty can even be worn as a pendant.
Historically speaking, the Orloff left a trail steeped in mystery as it journeyed the world changing hands between thieves and princesses. This blue-green diamond weighing 300 carats at the time was discovered amd mined in India. Records show that it may have been set as an eye in the Hindu god Vishnu and kept in a temple in Sriangam from where it appears to have been stolen and taken to Amsterdam where Grigori Orloff, a lover of Catherine the Great, bought it for her as a gift. She had it set in the Imperial Sceptre and today it is thought to be in the Diamond Treasury of Russia in Moscow.
Although not the largest, the Regent is considered by many to be the most beautiful diamond in the world. It appears that a slave found this diamond in a mine in India and hid it in a wound in his leg after which an English sea captain killed the slave and went off with the diamond. Somehow, Thomas Pitt who was the Governor of Madras acquired it and sent it to England where it was cut. In 1717, France purchased it for the French Crown. You can admire this beauty at the Louvre in Paris.
The Koh-i-Noor (Mountain of Light)
Where other diamonds hold the title for being the largest or most beautiful, the Koh-i-Noor, also known as Mountain of Light, is the longest of all the most famous diamonds. Its shape is oval; it weighs 105.60 carats, and it is presently part of the British Crown Jewels. Its rather blurry history begins in 1304 after which it exchanged hands between rajahs, sultans, and emperors and ending up in a brooch worn by Queen Victoria. It was transferred to the State Crown worn by Queen Alexandra and Queen Mary and by the present Queen Elizabeth at her coronation. As with many other fabulous diamonds that are part of the British Crown Jewels, you can admire Koh-i-Noor when visiting the Tower of London.
The Taylor-Burton tells the story of the on and off romance between the film stars Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. This gorgeous pear-shaped gem was mined at the Premier Mine in Cullinan, South Africa in 1966 and weighed 69.42 carats. Actor Richard Burton bought this stunner for his leading lady Elizabeth Taylor, but after his death she sold it for $2.8 million and donated the money to a charity in Biafra, a war-torn territory in Nigeria. Its last known whereabouts was somewhere in Saudi Arabia.
The Blue Hope
The dark greyish-blue Hope diamond’s history is rather miserable. This beautiful but unlucky gem is thought to have been part of the famous Blue Tavernier diamond that was found in India and then taken to Europe in approximately 1642 when King Louis XIV bought it. A thief stole it at the time of the French Revolution after which it appears to have surfaced again in the ownership of Henry Thomas Hope, who left the diamond to his son, but the son lost his entire fortune soon after inheriting the diamond. After that, Mrs McLean, an American widow owned it, but her family too suffered sad misfortunes. The Smithsonian Institute in Washington now owns it.
The Hortensia Diamond is one of only a handful of diamonds ever discovered that have a pale pink, peach or orange colour. It was named in honour of Hortense de Beauharnais, Napolean’s stepdaughter who became the Queen of Holland. Unfortunately, it was stolen along with other gems belonging to Marie Antoinette during the French Revolution but was recovered after a condemned man confessed to its whereabouts just before being beheaded. It is now kept safe at the Louvre in Paris because it is part of the French Crown Jewels.
Even though South Africa is a diamond and mineral-rich country, without the right mining equipment, none of these precious stones would have been mined. If you’re curious about the different types of mining equipment used, have a look here.