De Beers and The Crown Jewels

The Crown Jewels

The Crown Jewels, part of the Royal Collection, are on display in the newly refurbished Jewel House in the Tower of London, where they have been securely housed since 1661.  These however are the ‘new’ Crown Jewels, as the original coronation regalia was destroyed in 1649 when Charles I was executed, civil war was rife and a republic was declared.  When Charles II came to the throne in 1660 a new set of coronation regalia was made. 

Alongside the Crown of St Edward, used for the coronation, is the Imperial State Crown used on state occasions such as the State Opening of Parliament. Made for the coronation of George VI in 1937 it features the 317 carat Cullinan II diamond cut from the 3,106 carat Cullinan diamond discovered at the De Beers Premier Mine in South Africa in 1905.  Also part of the Crown Jewels is the Sovereign’s Sceptre, set with the Cullinan I or the Star of Africa, the largest of the stones cut from the Cullinan Diamond.

De Beers and The Crown Jewels

HRH Princess Elizabeth of York Visits the DTC in 1947
Queen Mary visits De Beers 1947

On 26 January 1905, one of the most momentous events in the entire history of gemstones took place when the Cullinan, the largest diamond ever found at 3,106 carats, was discovered in the Premier Mine in the Transvaal, South Africa.  The diamond was named after Thomas Cullinan, then chairman of the mine, and was presented to King Edward VII on his 66th birthday.

De Beers long and proud association with the Royal family dates back to 1907 when the Cullinan Diamond was presented by the South Africa government to King Edward VII on his 66th birthday.

In 1908, the diamond was taken to Amsterdam to be cut by a celebrated diamond firm, Asscher.  The first two cuts created three stones - the two biggest were to become Cullinan I and Cullinan II, the two largest cut diamonds in the world for many years.  Cullinan I and Cullinan II (later to be called The Star of Africa and The Second Star of Africa) were presented to Edward VII on 21st November 1908 and then placed in the Tower of London.  The Star of Africa was placed in the head of the Sovereign's Sceptre in 1910 in time for the coronation of George V.  The Second Star of Africa was set in the front band of the Imperial State Crown in 1909 where it remains to this day.  

William McHardy, General Manager Premier Mine, holds the Cullinan Diamond flanked by Thomas Cullinan (l) and Frederick Wells (r) who prised the stone from the mine wall

At noon on Friday 18th April 1947 King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and the two Royal Princesses stood on the edge of the 'Big Hole' at the De Beers Mine in Kimberley, South Africa guests of Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, chairman of De Beers, and members of the De Beers board.  The focal point of the royal visit was the display of diamonds worth (at the time) more than £3 million at the De Beers sorting centre in Kimberley.   

That same year Queen Mary visited the London offices of the Central Selling Organisation (later known as the Diamond Trading Company).  Queen Mary brought with her the smaller diamonds cut from the famous Cullinan to show to the company Directors. These diamonds were part of her personal jewellery collection.

More recently, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth has enjoyed days at Ascot races courtesy of the George VII and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes, hosted by members of the Oppenheimer family.