If you’re DeBeers – one of the biggest names in the diamond industry – you want to ring in your 100th anniversary with a bang. So you find a diamond world-record placeholder while exploring the same mine that produced the Cullinan (the world’s largest gem diamond). But it’s 1986, and your centenary celebration is 2 years away. Darn the timing. The solution? Swear your crew to secrecy for the 2-year interim.
That’s the unlikely story behind the “Centenary Diamond,” named for its unveiling at the DeBeers Centennial Banquet in South Africa, near the preeminent Kimberly mine. The unanticipated announcement was no less of a surprise than the shocking qualifications of this new diamond all-star – certified by the Gemological Institute of America as 599 carats of pure-D color. A “D” in the classroom may not be cause for rejoicing, but in the world of diamonds, you can’t get any closer to perfection. In addition, the flawless clarity made this one of the greatest finds – not just in DeBeers’ book – but in the history of diamond mining.
The next milestone in the lifespan of this spectacular gem was the question of cutting. DeBeers entrusted this to an Antwerp team headed by the legendary Gabi Tolkowsky, who studied the diamond for over a year before making the first attempt. He used painstaking traditional hand-cutting methods to preserve as much of the diamond as possible with the least waste, and to leave its surface pristine. Tolkowsky, a pioneer in cutting techniques, envisioned an ingenious design unique to the Centenary and based on a modified heart shape. Its astonishing 247 facets exploit the diamonds flawless clarity & color to a brilliant maximum.
The Centenary’s ultimate polished weight is nearly 274 carats. Remnants of the rough stone were crafted into smaller pear-shaped diamond cuts. The final result was made public in 1991, loaned temporarily on exhibit at the Tower of London among its royal kin of crown jewels. Its whereabouts today? No one knows for sure. But with an estimated insured value of $100 million, it’s not likely to be a subject of bragging rights!
Read more about the Centenary Diamond:
Famous Diamonds: The Centenary (including a conversation with Mr. Tolkowsky)