It’s January of 1905 in South Africa, and Sir Thomas Cullinan is paying a visit to the Premier diamond mine, which he founded. But little did Cullinan suspect that that same day the mine’s surface manager would spot a massive gem. That discovery would begin the stone’s journey from a few yards beneath his feet to the Tower of London in the U.K.
The gem, which would be named for Cullinan, was truly massive. Triple the size of the previous record holder, the Excelsior Diamond, it scaled four inches by two-and-a-half inches by a bit more than two. No wonder that thousands of people made the trip to have a look when it went on view at a Johannesburg bank.
Just a few months after being found, the diamond was transferred to Premier Mining Company’s London agent. There, the British king, Edward VII, viewed the gem, but neither he nor anyone else wanted to buy it. For two years, it languished in the U.K., until the Transvaal parliament decided on a use for the stone.