Located 20 minutes’ drive east of Tshwane (Pretoria), the mining town of Cullinan, one of Dinokeng's three major tourist hubs, is home to the Premier Diamond Mine, also known as the Cullinan Mine. The mine is most famous for the Cullinan diamond (also known as the Star of Africa) which was discovered here in 1905 and is the world’s largest ever diamond. Hence the Cullinan Mine is a very worthy location on the Gauteng map.
Thomas Cullinan, owner of the Premier Mine at the turn of the century, was a diamond mining magnate who discovered the Cullinan diamond fields in 1898. The Transvaal government bought the Cullinan diamond from him and presented it to King Edward VII on the occasion of the monarch’s birthday.
Aside from its remarkable clarity, a distinguishing feature of the stone is its black middle, a mark of bearing significant internal strain. The Asscher Brothers of Amsterdam were responsible for cleaving the stone before cutting it and legend has it that Joseph Asscher fainted with relief once this had been successfully done.
The Great Star of Africa, a pear-shaped diamond of 530.20 carats, is the largest of the nine stones fashioned from the Cullinan diamond, and is the second largest cut diamond in the world. It is set in the sceptre of the British Crown Jewels and is housed along with other royal jewels in the Tower of London.
The Premier Mine is the third richest diamond producer in South Africa and its functioning open pit is four times larger than the well-known Big Hole in Kimberley, one of the major tourist attractions in South Africa. The 3 106.75-carat Cullinan stone makes a not insignificant contribution to the 120-million carats that have been extracted from one of the biggest and richest kimberlite pipes in the world.
Daily tours of the mine are open to the public and explore both underground and surface operations including the mine shaft, hoist room, big hole, and the display room. The geology of the area is also explained, as is the mining process. Impressive displays of diamond cutting reveal the skill and mastery required to transform a diamond from a rough stone into a sparkling faceted gem. This is all the more awe-inspiring because of the stone’s extreme hardness due to millions of years spent underground in an environment of great pressure and heat.
While the history of the mine is still being completed, sparkling gems continue to be brought to the surface. In May 2008, a 101.27-carat diamond, about the size of a ping pong ball, was sold for more than $6.2 million at Christie’s in Hong Kong. De Beers, the diamond mining, diamond trading and industrial diamond manufacturing sectors giant, has conducted extensive marketing in the East where diamonds are in high demand.
The mine is top of the list of places to go in Gauteng and is open for tours between 10.30am and 2pm on weekdays (from 10.30am and 12.15pm on weekends). No children under 10 permitted. Tours last approximately two hours.