South Africa’s economy was built on the back of the mining industry and, particularly, two coveted commodities both discovered in never-before-seen quantities in our mineral-rich country – gold and diamonds. Not only do South Africa’s diamond fields boast large quantities of these gemstones, but gems of the finest quality, too. Here, we take a look at five of the most dazzling diamonds ever to be dug from South African soil…
Our diamond story starts with the Eureka Diamond, found by fifteen-year old Erasmus Jacobs on the family farm De Kalk, near Hopetown in the Northern Cape, in 1867. After using the glittering stone as a marble for a time, he gave it to a neighbouring farmer Schalk van Niekerk, a collector of unusual stones. He, in turn, gave it to a travelling peddler John o’ Reilly, who – remarkably – posted it in an envelope by ordinary mail to Grahamstown for examination. Here, thought to be a topaz, it was passed from person to person, until it was confirmed to be a diamond, and bought for 500 Pounds by the then Governor of the Cape, Sir Phillip Wodehouse. Young Erasmus Jacobs, alas, received nothing for his efforts but a footnote in history as the boy who discovered South Africa’s first diamond.
The second largest, and certainly the most famous, yellow diamond ever discovered, the Tiffany Diamond was unearthed in either 1877 or 1878 in South Africa’s Kimberley Mine by the Compagnie Français de Diamant du Cap (known as the ‘French Company’), who shipped it to Paris where it was cut and later sold for $18 000 to Tiffany’s, the famous New York jewellers.
It could be argued that the Tiffany Yellow made Tiffany the Store, rather than the other way around – although Tiffany’s never found a buyer for the diamond, it has been a priceless publicity tool, drawing millions to the Fifth Avenue store since it was first displayed there after its arrival in New York City in 1879. The Tiffany Yellow has only ever been worn by two people – a Mrs Sheldon Whitehouse in 1957 and actress Audrey Hepburn for a scene in the classic movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). The former was the winner of a competition Tiffany’s ran to promote their diamond collection, and off she went to Tiffany’s Rhode Island Ball with the diamond around her neck and an escort of armed guards at her side.
Also known as The Great Star of Africa, Culllinan 1 has got two claims to fame – not only the world’s largest cut diamond, it also takes pride of place in the Crowned Jewels of the United Kingdom, being set in the Royal Sceptre, the ceremonial ornamental staff held in hand by the ruling British Monarch at coronations and other occasions. Originally crafted in 1661 for King Charles II, the Sceptre was remodelled in 1910 to accommodate the Cullinan I, including reinforcement to carry the diamond’s considerable weight.
The Cullinan I was one of nine major diamonds cut from the rough Cullinan diamond, which at over three thousand carats, is the largest gem-quality rough diamond ever found. Uncovered 9 metres underground by Frederick G. S. Wells at Premier No. 2 Mine in Cullinan on 26 January 1905, this massive diamond was bought by the Government of the Union of South Africa and presented as a gift to King Edward VII in 1907.
Found in Cullinan’s Premier Mine in 1985, this is the largest faceted diamond in the world. Transforming it from its rough state, which featured deep cracks, to a spectacular cut diamond with a fiery glow required not only special skill but a vibration-proof underground cutting room and the development of revolutionary cutting techniques. Purchased by Thai jeweller Henry Ho – and blessed by Pope John Paul II – the hitherto Unnamed Brown Diamond was rechristened the Golden Jubilee Diamond and presented in 1996 to the reigning King of Thailand Bhumibol Adulyadej to mark his Golden Jubilee (50th Coronation Anniversary). It now forms part of the Crown Jewels of the Thai Royal Family.
Another whopper pulled from Premier Mine, Cullinan back in 1986, this diamond is the third largest diamond ever extracted from that mine after Cullinan I and Cullinan II. Its discovery was kept secret by De Beers for two years, until its existence was made known to the world at the mining company’s lavish centenary celebration at Kimberly in 1988. After nearly three years of examination and deliberation, followed by a lengthy hand-cutting process in the same underground room in which the Golden Jubilee Diamond was cut, the Centenary Diamond’s final shape was, at long last, revealed – a stunning 247 facets, this diamond is described by experts as close-to-perfect.
The economic impact of the diamond industry is profound – the country is still the world’s fourth largest diamond producer, with 49% of the world’s diamonds being produced here. Diamond mining contributes 18% to South Africa’s GDP, R130 million in mining royalties are paid to Treasury annually, and the industry remains one of the country’s biggest employers.
To keep the diamonds coming, mines need a reliable supply of fuel – like HFO and diesel – to power generators, heavy mining equipment and other vehicles. SA Oil is a proud partner of mining in Southern Africa, with our ability to provide mines with fuel as and when it’s needed has firmly established us as a preferred fuel supplier to many mining majors. See our product page for more info…