The package arrived in a plain cardboard box. It was simply addressed to S Neumann & Co – a mining sales agency in the centre of London – and weighed just over a pound (around 500g). But this was no ordinary cargo.
It was April 1905, and three months earlier, the surface manager at the Premier Mine in South Africa had been completing a routine inspection 18ft (5.4m) underground, when he glimpsed a reflected light in the rough wall above him. He assumed it was a large piece of glass hammered in by colleagues as a practical joke. Just in case, out came his pocket knife, and after some digging… the knife promptly snapped. Eventually the rock was removed successfully, and revealed to be a bona fide diamond – a monster 3,106.75-carat stone, almost the size of a fist. It was not only enormous, but unusually transparent.
The Cullinan, as it became known, is the largest diamond ever found. Once it had been polished and cleaved into several more manageable stones, the largest crystal it yielded would shine like the cool glow of a star in a distant galaxy. As a result, this stone – the Cullinan I – is sometimes known as the Great Star of Africa.