This article is copyrighted by the author and all rights reside with the author, T.L. Jones.

At first, the mine superintendent thought he was the brunt of a practical joke. While making a routine check of the premises at the end of the day, Frederick Wells caught the reflection of the setting sun glimmering off the wall of the mine shaft. Upon closer inspection, he discovered a magnificent stone. Afraid of being teased by his peers, he had the gem checked privately before taking it to the manager's office. Within hours, he found out that he had uncovered the largest diamond ever—3,106 carats.

Wells made history—and $10,000—for his discovery. Christened the 'Cullinan' diamond after Thomas Cullinan, founder of the Premier Diamond Mining Co. in South Africa, where the stone was found, the gem was bought by the Transvaal government and was to be a gift for Britain's King Edward VII, as a token of esteem on his 66th birthday.

The precautions surrounding the transport of the diamond were monumental. Armed guards escorted the boxed stone by train to Capetown, there they boarded a ship to Southampton, then proceeded by train to London, with final delivery in the vaults of the Bank of England. Photographers followed close behind the entourage. Newspapermen followed close behind the photographers. What nobody--not even the guards--ever knew, was that the stone in the box was a dummy. The real Cullinan had been sent to London via registered mail.

Cutting the huge, rough Cullinan was perhaps the greatest challenge ever facing a diamond cutter, and the job was entrusted to the foremost diamond cutter of the day, Joseph Asscher of Amsterdam.

Two months of intense preparation went into the project. Special tools had to be made for the cleaving and polishing of the great stone. The rough gem had to be microscopically examined from every angle, for the slightest miscalculation would result in this incredible stone shattering into a million pieces. (No doubt in the cutter Asscher's mind, the shattering of his great career at the same time.)

The day was February 10, 1908. The King's representatives were in attendance as were notary publics to officially record the event. Standing by were a doctor and two nurses. The room was quiet. Asscher inserted a steel blade into the groove. No one dared to breathe. He lifted his mallet, and after what must have seemed like an eternity, he struck the blade sharply. It shattered, but the diamond didn't budge. Keeping his emotions tightly in check, Asscher went through the painstaking motions once again. And this time, success. The stone split exactly as he had planned. Asscher promptly fainted, and spent the next two weeks in the hospital recovering from nervous exhaustion. Further cleaving, sawing and polishing of the Cullinan produced nine major stones, 96 minor ones, and 10 carats of polished fragments. The largest, named Cullinan I, or "The Great Star of Africa" is the largest cut diamond in existence. At 530 carats, it is a magnificent pear-shaped gem, set in the royal sceptre of the British Crown Jewels.