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After #ReturnKohinoor, now South Africa wants its 500-carat Great Star diamond from UK

Shaurya Thapa
Shaurya ThapaSep 20, 2022 | 14:16

After #ReturnKohinoor, now South Africa wants its 500-carat Great Star diamond from UK

The Great Star was cut out of a larger diamond that was then divided into nine precious stones, all of which are under the Crown (photo-DailyO)

Ever since Queen Elizabeth II died, Indians had been demanding the UK to return the Kohinoor diamond, a claim that seems futile given how Britain claimed the diamond through “legal means” (the Anglo-Sikh Treaty of Lahore). But now, a new player has joined the bandwagon: South Africa.

Great Star of Africa on the Royal Sceptre (photo-Getty)
Great Star of Africa on the Royal Sceptre (photo-Getty)

One of the “bazillion” gems that the British Empire nabbed from its colonies is the Great Star, a 530.4-carat diamond that also happens to be the largest clear cut diamond in the world. 

Where was the Great Star found?

The Great Star is also known as Cullinan I, as it was one of the nine diamonds cut out of the larger Cullinan diamond that weighed a whopping 3,106.7 carats. It was in January 1905, when the Cullinan diamond was spotted at Premier No 2, a mine in the small South African town of Cullinan, named so after the owner of the mine and diamond magnate Thomas Cullinan. 

The original Cullinan Diamond from which the Great Star was cut out of (photo- Joseph Asscher and Co)
The original Cullinan Diamond from which the Great Star was cut out of (photo- Joseph Asscher and Co)

The town exists till today in a post-Apartheid South Africa, still carrying the colonial legacy in its name. 

How did Britain obtain the diamond?

In April 1905, the Cullinan was put up for sale in London but surprisingly, it won over no potential customers for two years. In 1907, the colonial government of South Africa’s Transvaal Colony bought the diamond with the motive of gifting it to the erstwhile monarch Edward VII. 

But before the 621.9g diamond could fall into Edward’s hands, the Cullinan was sent to Amsterdam where gem-cutter Joseph Asscher cut the diamond into nine large diamonds and several other miniature-sized ones (referred to as “brilliants”). 

Joseph Asscher making the cut (photo-Joseph Asscher and Co)
Joseph Asscher making the cut (photo-Joseph Asscher and Co)

Cullinan I or the Great Star, the largest of the lot, was mounted in the head of the Crown’s Spectre with Cross. The second-largest Cullinan II (AKA the Second Star of Africa), was embedded into the Imperial State Crown. Much like Kohinoor and others, both diamonds continue being a part of the Crown Jewels to this day. 

As for the other seven Cullinan diamonds, Elizabeth II owned them privately, a collection she inherited from her grandmother Queen Mary. 

All nine diamonds cut out of the Cullinan (photo-Joseph Asscher and Co)
All nine diamonds cut out of the Cullinan (photo-Joseph Asscher and Co)

What is the Great Star’s future? 

Given the past experiences, it is highly unlikely that the British government would push for the diamond to be returned to South Africa. The Brits continue claiming it as a “royal gift” even though the giver of the gift was technically their own government. It was Louis Botha (President of the Union of South Africa) himself who presented the diamond to King Edward VII in 1907. 

Queen Elizabeth II walking with the royal sceptre and orb (photo- GETTY)
Queen Elizabeth II walking with the royal sceptre and orb (photo- GETTY)

In a move that can be considered quite an exception, the Horniman Museum of London decided to return 72 bronze artifacts, collectively known as Benin Bronzes, to Nigeria. The Bronzes were looted by the British military from the Kingdom of Benin in southern Nigeria in 1897. 

However, given the status of the Great Star as a Crown Jewel, a return to South Africa as a colonial reparation seems to be off the cards for the monarchy.

Last updated: September 20, 2022 | 14:16
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