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The Excelsior

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From the Archives : Originally published June 26th, 2009
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Category : Gems and Treasures





Until the discovery of the Cullinan Diamond, the world's largest-known uncut diamond was the Excelsior, found at the Jagersfontein Mine in South Africa. The rough stone weighted 995.20 carats.


The Excelsior I, set in an elaborate bracelet by Mouawad.


On the evening of June 30th, 1893, an miner picked up an immense diamond in a shovel of gravel which he was loading into a truck; he hid it from his overseer and delivered it directly to the hands of the Mine Manager. As a reward he received £500 plus a horse equipped with a saddle and bridle.



The diamond weighed 971 old carats, equivalent to 995.2 metric carats and after long research it was finally cut in 1904. Apparently this is what inspired the diamond to be named 'Excelsior', meaning higher. It is the second largest diamond of the world, second only to Cullinan and the Golden Jubilee diamond. Excelsior is not only famous for its size but also for its quality.

This 995.2 carat diamond has suffered a tragic fate ever since and is considered to be the Great Unknown of famous diamonds. It just happened to be found on the exact day that a consortium of London firms that had the purchase rights to the mines output expired. Had the diamond been found a couple of hours earlier the history of the Excelsior Diamond may have been much different.


In 1996 it was sold to Robert Mouawad for $2,642,000.


The Excelsior as a rough stone


The Excelsior diamond has risen to fame due to its exclusive shape and unusual cleavage.
Since a buyer could not be found for such a large stone it was decided to cut the stone into 21 smaller stones, the largest being only 69.68 carats.

The raw diamond was taken to Amsterdam where I.J Asscher and Company of Amsterdam cut the diamond in 21, with weights ranging from 1 to 70 carats. The color of this diamond is bluish white with fine cleavages. 


Excelsior I ... 69.68 carats ... pear shape
Excelsior II ... 47.03 carats ... pear shape
Excelsior III ... 46.90 carats ... pear shape (the Rovensky?)
Excelsior IV ... 40.23 carats ... marquise
Excelsior V ... 34.91 carats ... pear shape
Excelsior VI ... 28.61 carats ... marquise
Excelsior VII ... 26.30 carats ... marquise
Excelsior VIII ...
24.31 carats ... pear shape
Excelsior IX ... 16.78 carats ... pear shape
Excelsior X ... 13.86 carats ... pear shape
Excelsior XI ... 9.82 carats ... pear shape

Like all other diamonds of Jagersfontein, Excelsior also has black spots in the interior. The shapes in which these diamonds were cut are mainly of two types’ pear and marquise.

Eminent diamond trading companies like Tiffany & Co. and De Beers purchased these Excelsior diamonds separately. Though the information regarding the buyer and seller are kept confidential, speculations about the ownership and sales of the diamonds are always in the minds of media, diamond collectors and merchants.


It was stated by Alpheus F. Williams, who later became the General Manager of the De Beers company, considered the decision to cleave the diamond into several smaller fragments as the greatest tragedy of modern times in the history of famous diamond in the world.


The Excelsior I bracelet




 It is possible that two more of the larger gems cut from the Excelsior rough may have come to light within recent years. At an exhibition called The Court of Jewels presented by Harry Winston Inc. in San Antonio, Texas in 1949, there was a 40-carat marquise measuring 25.4 by 19 mm. Little appears to have been known about this diamond before its purchase from Harry Winston by a prominent American family. Could it have been the Excelsior IV? On January 23rd, 1957, a diamond necklace with a pendant, owned by Mrs. John E. Rovensky came up for auction at Parke-Bernet Galleries. The pendant was a pear-shaped diamond weighing approximately 46.50 carats. Since it had originally been purchased from Tiffany's, is there not a distinct possibility that this gem was none other than the Excelsior III?



All famous diamonds 




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