The Eureka Diamond, weighing 21.25ct in the rough and 10.73 ct when finally cut, had numerous internal flaws. It is not by ordinary standards exceptional but it was the first diamond to be discovered by pure accident in South Africa in 1867 and therefore has historical significance.
In 1866 a shepherd boy found a small, shiny stone on the south bank of the Orange River near Hopetown. The pebble was kept for a while by a 15-year-old boy named Erasmus Jacobs, who later gave it to his neighbor, farmer Schalk van Niekerk, a collector of unusual stones.
Van Niekerk entrusted the pebble to John O’Reilly, a traveling peddler, who sent it, in an unsealed envelope, to Dr W.G. Atherstone of Grahamstown, one of the few people in the Cape Colony who knew something about minerals and gems. Dr Atherstone identified it as a 21.25-carat brownish yellow diamond. It was later sold for £500 to Sir Phillip Wodehouse, the Governor of the Cape Colony.
In 1870 Sir Philip returned to the UK, and there the Eureka was to remain for almost 100 years. It was cut and, over the course of almost a century, changed hands a number of times.
It remained in a private collection until, in 1967, exactly 100 years after its discovery, De Beers purchased the Eureka, gifting it to the people of South Africa.
The Eureka was placed on permanent loan by the South African government at the Mine Museum, Kimberley – a fitting venue to display the gemstone that established South Africa as one of the world’s richest resources of diamonds.