The Excelsior

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Unlike many of the diamonds in this series, the story of the Excelsior diamond is not one of love, religion or myth. Rather, the tale of the Excelsior provides a stark and eye-opening reminder of the potentially destructive power of money. Its discovery remains a hugely significant moment in history – the Excelsior’s story is one to remember.

A hidden treasure

On an otherwise quiet and nondescript day in 1893, in the early days of the Jagersfontein Mine in South Africa, a record-breaking discovery was made. Hidden amongst a mound of gravel, the diamond now known as the Excelsior diamond was unearthed.

Mine workers noticed the unique features associated with Jagersfontein diamonds – the bluish-white colour and internal black spots buried deep within the diamond. Further examination revealed that not only was the artefact recovered indeed a Jagersfontein diamond, but also that it was the largest rough diamond ever found, weighing in at over 995 carats.

The best thing since sliced bread

The diamond was later named the Excelsior, meaning “higher”. This is thought to be inspired by its physical appearance, which resembled a loaf of rye bread; flat on one side, rising to a peak on the other.

The discovery of the Excelsior diamond hugely boosted the area’s mining activity, and just four years later the Reitz diamond was found in the same mine. Following this success, the New Jagersfontein Mining and Exploration Company, the owner of the Jagersfontein mine, made deals with a number of firms in London for the purchase of the output of the mine, and, a short while later, the Excelsior diamond found itself on the way to London.

The greatest tragedy of modern times

Once the Excelsior arrived in London, it was immediately put up for sale. However, following a lack of willing buyers, it was later decided that the original 995 carat rough diamond would be cut into a number of smaller, purer fragments.

Thus, in 1904, the Excelsior was cleaved into ten pieces and, only a small number of years later, subsequently became no less than 21 individual pieces. These final cuts of the Excelsior diamond vary in size and in cut, however what was once a 995 carat diamond now weighs in at 373.75 carats, representing a loss in weight of almost 63%.

As might be expected, this move was not popular with all parties. Alpheus F. Williams of De Beers, a world-leading diamond company, called the cleaving of the Excelsior “unpardonable” and motivated by profit, rather than historical significance or merit. So disappointed by the cutting of the Excelsior diamond was Williams, that he labelled it the greatest tragedy of modern times.

A millennial mystery

In the years following, the 21 fragments were later distributed to buyers all across the globe. Three of the pieces were purchased by New York-based Tiffany & Co. in 1939, whereas the largest of the pieces, the 70 carat Excelsior I, was in the possession of a family in the United States for several decades. After the most recent purchase in 1996 by Robert Mouawad, for a record $2,642,000, Excelsior I now resides in a bracelet in Mouawad’s collection.

The whereabouts of many of the other fragments, however, remain unknown to this day. Rumours of diamonds matching the descriptions of several of the missing Excelsior diamonds have surfaced over recent decades, but none have been formally recognised.

While the Excelsior no longer measures up to its impressive original weight, nor holds the title of the world’s largest rough diamond ever found (following the 1905 discovery of the Cullinan diamond), it remains the second largest rough diamond ever found and its discovery still to this day holds monumental historical significance.

Protect your treasures

Whether your diamond is a fragment of the original Excelsior or your own personal treasure, we know that all diamonds are precious and deserve the best protection. Though it is not always possible to prevent loss or theft, with Assetsure’s standalone Diamond Ring Insurance you can rest assured knowing that its financial worth is covered should such eventualities occur.