JOHANNESBURG – Jewels in the crown being worn by Queen Consort Camilla at the upcoming coronation are once again in the spotlight, after a decision was made not to include one of the largest cut diamonds in the world.
Instead of including the Koh-i-nûr from India, Camilla’s crown, which once belonged to Queen Mary, will be reset with South Africa’s Cullinan diamonds instead.
Koh-i-nûr has a contentious history. According to the Royal Collection Trust, it was delivered to Queen Victoria in 1850 from Mumbai (then Bombay) in an armlet that was “badly cut and disappointingly lacking in brilliance”.
The Koh-i-nûr. Picture: Royal Collection Trust
The diamond and two side stones were re-cut and turned into a bodice brooch and pendants, before being turned into earrings.
In reality, the diamond was confiscated on behalf of the British crown from the Punjab Maharajah Duleep Singh in 1849, according to the Journal of British Studies.
Before Singh inherited the Koh-i-nûr, it belonged to Persian leader Nadar Shah, who captured Delhi in 1739. It was then owned by Ahmad Shah of the Durani Dynasty, and then to Shah Shujah.
The Koh-i-nûr will not be set in the crown due to India’s ruling party warning this would bring back “painful memories of the colonial past”, The Telegraph reported.
India’s ministry of culture in 2016 reiterated its call for the United Kingdom to bring back the Koh-i-nûr in an “amicable manner”, and the ruling party has made its stance on the royal family’s possession of the diamond known.
But South Africa has a colonial past too. And there have been repeated calls for European settler countries to return historical artefacts taken by them or given to them by illegitimate structures, such as the colonial armies.
The discovery of the 3,106 carat Cullinan diamond was in 1905 and credited to superintendent Frederick Wells at Premier Mine (near Pretoria). It was transported to England after being insured for R17 million to a London agent for safekeeping. It was named after the so-called owner of the mine where it was found, Thomas Cullinan. Details around the actual miners who dug it up are difficult to find.
After the Anglo-Boer War, the diamond was purchased by the then Transvaal government for over R2 million, and given to King Edward VII as a gesture of goodwill in 1907 after the Anglo-Boer war, which took place just before the apartheid regime came into power.
It was cut by I.J. Asscher, who cut it into a number of smaller stones. Among these is Cullinan I and II, which are set in the head of the royal family’s scepter and on the band of the crown respectively. The Cullinan IV is a large cushion-shaped stone surrounded by smaller stones.
A number of smaller stones were again acquired by the South African government just to be given to the royal family again, this time to Queen Mary, in 1910.
Smaller diamonds cut from the ‘Star of Africa’, the Cullinan diamond. Picture: Royal Collection Trust
Camilla wearing Queen Mary’s crown for the coronation is in the name of “sustainability and efficiency”, and will be worn at an event to be attended by dignitaries and watched by billions.
But does this mean South Africa will never get their own crown jewels back?
Queen Mary’s crown, made of silver, gold, (Cullinan) diamonds, quartz crystal, velvet, and ermine. Picture: Royal Trust Collection
From petitions to political uproar, calls resurged for the return of the stars of Africa after Queen Elizabeth II died on 8 September 2022. And these will continue each time any one of the Cullinan diamonds make an appearance.
Retrieving the stones would require political will, but those conversations have yet to take place between the public and government – even though news and social media posts show people are increasingly asking to not just have their adornments back. Others, still, are asking their governments to return it.
It is safe to say that 6 May’s coronation of Camilla and King Charles will be a hard watch, especially because the sentiment surrounding the Cullinan diamonds is no secret.
That’s also the same date as UK Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s son Archie’s birthday.