The Jonker

Photo Debeers Archives

The job of a diamond digger is very different from that of a diamond miner. Whereas a miner may be exposed to a greater degree of physical risk - although the safety records of diamond mines is second to none - he or she will also enjoy all the benefits that a large company or corporation can offer him both during his active working life and his retirement.

On the other hand diamond digging is generally a very precarious line of work and even the most experienced diggers barely make enough to keep alive. However, hope springs eternal in the human heart and his or her faith alone is enough, it would seem, to spur diggers on to continue to work their claims, in spite of the great odds stacked against them.

Occasionally a lucky digger has struck it rich and made an exceptional find. One such person was 62-year-old Johannes Jacobus Jonker who had been trying his luck at various occupations for 18 years throughout South Africa. At the time of his momentous find he was working a claim at Elandsfontein, 4.8 kilometers south of the Premier Mine and about 40 kilometers east of Pretoria, South Africa's administrative capital. It was said that he was always on the brink of fortune but always poor -- and he had seven children (though, at 62, most of them were probably grown).

January 17th, 1934 dawned a cold, windy day. After the pouring rain had ploughed up the earth, Johannes decided to stay at home because he had been out of luck and was feeling discouraged. Instead, he sent his son Gert along with two of his native South African employees to direct operations on the claim. One of them, Johannes Makani, was washing a bucketful of gravel when he suddenly stopped dead in his tracks and picked up something. Without saying anything he walked to the cleaning camp and scrubbed the object which he had found, which had been caked with dirt. He then threw his hat in the air and shouted "Oh god, I have found it!" he rushed across to Gert Jonker who at first thought he was looking at a piece of glass, but when he realized it was a real diamond, he rushed to tell his father. When he found him, all he got was a parental scorn for riding wrecklesly...however, when Jacobus too realized it was a diamond, he went down on his knees and thanked god.

The object turned out to indeed be a diamond of an enlongated shape measuring about 63.5 by 31.75 mm, a fine ice-white color and weighing 726 carats. At the time of its discovery the Jonker was the fourth largest gem quality diamond ever unearthed; it was moved to fifth placed four years later when the President Vargas, weighing just 0.6 carats more, was found.

Understandably no one in the Jonker household had ever seen a diamond larger than a hen's egg abd some still doubted whether it could be a diamond. Mrs. Jonker, however, wasn't taking any chances; she put it down a stocking and tied the stocking around her neck. She went to bed but never managed to fall asleep, while men kept guard at the door of the poor hut with loaded revolvers.

The Jonker Diamond in its rough state.

The story of the Jonker Diamond includes the names of several men prominent in the diamond industry. One of them was Joseph Bastiaenen who had started his career in the London offices of the Diamond Syndicate, the precursor of the present Diamond Trading Company, after World War I. Ten years later he was sent by Sir Ernest Oppenheimer as head sorter of the Diamond Corporation's head office in Kimberley; then he was appointed a buyer for the Diamond Corporation in the alluvial fields and it was in that capacity that he bought the Jonker, up against severe competition from buyers representing famous diamond firms from all over the world.

About a week after the purchase of the Jonker Mr. Bastiaenen brought the diamond into to the Kimberley office where his colleagues proceeded to ask him questions, many of which had to do with the perilous state of the diamond industry at the time and the huge amount of money the stone has cost the company. In the middle of these conversations the Jonker fell off the sorting table and rolled, and in a light-hearted moment one or two of the more rambunctious members of the staff started kicking it around the room, much to the alarm of the man who had just paid a fortune for it.

Reports of the amount paid for the Jonker varied between 61,000 and 75,000. The transaction also involved another large crystal weighing 281 carats which had been found within 100 meters of the Jonker crystal a mere few days earlier. The stone was the Pohl, named after another diamond digger, J.M. Pohl. However, although of a fine white color, it contained several imperfections. Soon after the sale of the Jonker crystal to the Diamond Corporation, the South Africa government moved in quickly demanding about one-third of the stone's value for taxes -- the equivalent of 6 years' work -- in income tax, super-tax and provincial tax. The Minister o Mines agreed that certain sums of money spent in the discovery of the stone should be deducted from the purchase price and exempted from being taxed. The Jonker family would claim:

14,755 ... Cost of digging operations for 18 years (the amount of time it took to actually find the stone)
3600 ... 'Donations' (?)
1000 ... Preliminary expenses
1000 ... Cost of negotiating the sale
755 ... Donations to churches (no sane court would have allowed this as a deduction, being a mere option of free will rather than necessity)
200... Travelling expenses

The Receiver of Revenue didn't allow any items except for the first and last, but he cut the first from 14,755 to 2000 and the last from 200 to 100. So, faced with a reduction of the tax exemption from 21,310 to just 2100, the Jonkers petitioned the House of Assembly to grant them the exemption they claimed, but in vain. Jacobus Jonker must have thought of himself as a citizen of the Holy Roman Empire rather than of South Africa because he underlined in his bible, St. Luke, Chapter 2, Verse 1: "And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Ceasar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed."

This misfortune was only the first for Jonker. The diamond crystal he found may have brought him wealth but it destroyed his peace of mind -- for years he had led the life of a poverty-stricken digger, moving from one diamond field to another without a fixed abode. When his famous stone was found he was living in a prospector's shack. With the money he got from the diamond he bought a farm, some cattle and a limousine, but at heart he remained a simple countryman and was never able to cope with the realities of the commercial world that his great discovery had pushed him into. The effect this had on his finances was disasterous and within a few years all he had left were his memories and his good name....fame and fortune had forsaken him.

The fact the Jonker was discovered just 5 kilometers from the Premier Mine and since it was such a white, high-quality stone inevitably led to speculation as to whether it had once been part of the Cullinan crystal. This giant stone, found in the Premier Mine 29 years earlier, possessed a cleavage face on one side so smooth that it suggested it may have previously formed part of a much larger crystal. Indeed the "missing half of the Cullinan" has remained to this day a topic for debate in diamond specialist circles and among those who examined the question was Dr. J.R. Sutton, the author of Diamond, A Descriptive Treatise who wrote the following letter to a gemological publication on March 20th, 1934:

"Dear Sir,
I have delayed answering your letter until I could see the newly found Jonker Diamond. This I have seen and compared it with a fine glass model of the Cullinan. Also I have discussed the matter of the latter stone with Mr. E. Weatherby, Valuator of Diamond Corporation, who had examined it carefully after it was found.

"The resemblance between the Cullinan and Jonker stones is remarkable. In fact if the latter were four times its actual size, the two would almost be twin brothers. Each stone has the same broad base (cleavage plane). Each has suffered damage by splintery fracture; and what is significant, the base on each is surrounded by a small rounded bevel mainly conforming to the dodecahedral plane both about 1/10 of an inch [2.5 mm] across. The chief difference is that whereas the base on the Cullinan is not exactly plane, though smooth, the base of the Jonker is not smooth and carries some small projections.

"Mr. Weatherby is empathetic that the Cullinan is not a cleavage piece in the mineralogical sense. He never had any doubts that it is a whole stone as nature made it, saving minor accidents. All this confirms me in my opinion.

"Of the authors you quote is there one that can be reguarded as an expert in the study of natural diamond, especially diamond and cleaving? Is there one whose knowledge is equal to, say, a week's work in a big diamond office? They have all been in museums and elsewhere, and Crookes experimented somewhat on the stone. But their united testimony only comes to this: that one copies what the other has said, all taking Corstorphine's 'technical description' as gospel!

"I have seen an unbroken diamond fresh from the mine which I would wager diamond to paste that every one of the same authors would have said had been roughly shaped by a cutter...My definition of cleavage would be 'the opened face of a split diamond'. Cleavage as a trade term includes both broken diamonds and unbroken misshapen lumps.

"Both the Cullinan and Jonker would be trade cleavages.

"I left Corstorphine's technical description behind in South Africa; but speaking from memory there was no suggestion in it of a proper examination of the 'cleavage faces'. With few exceptions octahedral faces of the diamond crystals carry triangular indentations [trigons]. But on 'occasional so-called glassies' one may look in vain for these markings: the surface being as mirror-like as a cleavage face... All things considered it seems to me that those who claim the Cullinan as a piece of a much bigger stone have a stuff proposition to prove.

"P.S. The Jonker and Cullinan clearly grew under identical conditions. Therefore, the Jonker not being a portion of a much bigger stone it is a fair argument that the Cullinan is also not a fragment."

Actress Shirley Temple holding the Jonker
rough. This is a good photo to show scale.

As well as being a historical event in itself, the discover of the Jonker Diamond marked several firsts in diamond lore. The stone became the first large one to be sold through the De Beers Central Selling Organization which under the guidance of Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, had superseded the old syndicate of diamond buying firms. The Jonker was shipped by ordinary registered mail to the group's London offices on Charterhouse Street.

At the same time Harry Winston became interested in buying the diamond. In 1935 he contacted Hugo Prins, then senior partner of the firm of I. Hennig & Co., who were already brokers to a number of different firms in the diamond cutting part of the industry. In the end, these contacts led to Mr. Winston's purchase of the Jonker and marked the first of many purchases of unique large diamonds which the company of Harry Winston Inc. was to make over the following years from the Central Selling Organization. In the case of the Jonker the negotiations understandably lasted several weeks, with Hennig's acting on behalf of Mr. Winston. It was thought that the Jonker was sold for an amount in excess of 150,000. The Pohl Diamond was again included in the sale.

Harry Winston

The year 1935 was the year of the Royal Silver Jubilee celebrations and in order to accommodate the many important persons who had come to London for the even and who wished to inspect the Jonker, Mr. Winston consented to it been left in London for a while. The decision to let the gem remain there was also influenced by the suggestion coming from several influential areas that the Jonker would make an excellent gift to King George V and Queen Mary, both of whom had seen the diamond. It was thought that popular subscription from the public with the objective of buying the stone was considered but in the end it never happened. The Jonker eventually made its trans-Atlantic trip to Mr. Winston's offices in New York City. Unfortunately, the king died the following year, and Edward, his oldest son, was to be crowned Edward VIII, but abdicated. The king's second son became George VI.

A woman models the Hope Diamond and holds the Jonker Diamond (in her hands). This
was probably a Harry Winston employee or a model. Mr. Winston would donate the Hope
to the Smithsonian in 1958. This photo was probably taken in either 1948 or 1949 when
he owned the Hope and Jonker at the same time, having bought the Hope from the estate
of Evalyn Walsh McLean, but before having sold the Jonker to King Farouk of Egypt. The
necklace she holds in her hands is the same piece at the top of this page.

When the Jonker reached New York Harry Winston received numerous requests throughout the United States to place it on exhibition, so he consented to its display at the Natural History Museum. But there was the more immediate and important problem of cutting the diamond. No diamond of comparable size or value had been cut in the United States. Mr. Winston's choice of cutter fell on Lazare Kaplan, who was descended from three generations of jewelers and had learned the craft of diamond cutting in Belgium. Mr. Kaplan had established a reputation as an outstanding cleaver and cutter, known especially for his insistence on obtaining the maximum fire and brilliance in a gem even if doing so resulted in a slightly greater loss of caratweight. In 1914 Mr. Kaplan transferred his business to the North American continent aand he was the pioneer in establishing the diamond cutting industry in Puerto Rico.

An additional reason for choosing Lazare Kaplan to cut the Jonker was the fact that, not long before, he had successfully cut its constant companion, the Pohl Diamond. The yield had been fifteen gems, all flawless except for one, which nonetheless sold for $50,000. The largest diamond, an emerald cut weighing 38.10 metric carats, has retained the name Pohl and was once owned by art collector Bernice Chrysler Garbisch, daughter of the found of the Chrysler Motor Corporation (now Daimler-Chrysler).

But the task of cutting the Jonker confronted Lazare Kaplan with a far greater challenge -- the biggest he had ever encountered. Only two diamonds comparable to this stone had previously been found -- the 3,106-carat Cullinan and the 995.2-carat Excelsior, both cut by the Asscher firm -- and of the two, only the former had been cleaved. The task of cutting the Jonker was not made easier by the fact it possessed a degree of frostiness on its surface (visible in the above photos of the rough), thereby rendering its cutting and polishing an even more hazardous operation. In addition, the insurers refused to cover the cutting of the diamond -- even tohugh they had been prepared to let it travel to New York by ordinary registered mail!

Lazare Kaplan studied the Jonker for months: he made many models of it, precisely reconstucting the crystallization of the diamond. At the time it was said that he lived, ate and breathed the stone. His minute examination of the Jonker paid off, for he noticed a small ledge on the stone -- a fact which opened his eyes to the mistake that those European who had studied it and made suggestions about its cutting had earlier made. It took strong self-assurance to follow his conviction but Mr. Kaplan realized that there lay only one way in which the diamond could be cleaved. He calmly marked the cleavage lines with Indian ink, a device which he originated but which some reguarded as mere affection on his part. Afterwords he stated that the Jonker was a 'freak of nature'; what resembled the cleavage plane was not in fact the cleavage at all. At one point he had been about to split the stone when he notice a microscopic bend in a slight surface crack. At the crucial moment all his calculations therefore went awry.

A cubic zirconia replica of the Jonker Diamond which I got from NW Diamonds & Gems.

Finally the day came when the first cleavage took place. It was April 27th, 1936 when a 35-carat section was split off the stone: this piece yielded the single marquise among the gems. Two more cleavings took place; the rest of the division was done by sawing. The figures, below, indicate the course of the cutter and polishing of the Jonker; it is of especial interest to note how close the final weights of the 13 gems were to earlier estimates that Lazare Kaplan had given to Harry Winston.

Estimated (left section) and Actual Finished (right), MQ = Marquise, EC = Emerald cut
Rough Weight...Dimensions...Apprx. Weight......Dimensions(mm) ... Weight ... Rank
35.82 cts ... 30 12 ... 17 cts ............ 29.5 12.2 ... MQ, 15.77 cts ... VIII
79.65 cts ... 23 17 ... 42 cts ............ 23.2 18.3 ... EC, 41.29 cts ... II
43.30 cts ... 17 14 ... 20 cts ............ 17.3 14.6 ... EC, 19.76 cts ... VII
54.19 cts ... 21 16 ... 30 cts ............ 21.7 16.2 ... EC, 25.78 cts ... V
52.77 cts ... 22 16 ... 35 cts ............ 22.8 16.3 ... EC, 30.71 cts ... IV
65.28 cts ... 24 14 ... 35 cts ............ 24.8 16.5 ... EC, 35.45 cts ... III
13.57 cts ... 16 7.5 ... 6 cts ............ 15.5 8.8 .... EC, 5.70 cts .... XI
53.95 cts ... 20 x 15 ... 25 cts ............ 20.3 15.2 ... EC, 24.9l cts ... VI
10.98 cts ... 10.5 10 .. 5 cts ............ 10.8 10.3 ... EC, 5.30 cts .... XII
220.00 cts .. 33 31 ... 150 cts ........... 33.7 30.8 ... EC, 142.90 cts .. I
29.46 cts ... 15.25 12.25 .. 14 cts ....... 15.3 12.2 ... EC, 11.43 cts ... X
27.85 cts ... 16.5 12.5 .. 14 cts ......... 16.5 12.3 ... EC, 13.55 cts ... IX
8.28 cts .... Baguette ... 4 cts ............ 12.3 7.2 ........ 3.53 cts .... XIII
695.10 carats total
10.73 carats rough and miscellaneous fancies returned to Harry Winston Inc.
5.37 carats cleaving loss
13.22 carats sawing loss
1.57 carats opening loss
726 carats

The largest diamond, which has retained the name Jonker, originally weighed 142.9 carats, cut with 66 facets. Later the proportions were changed, to impart to it a more oblong outline and greater brilliance. The stone was also flawed, apparently. It was thus reduced to a weight of 125.35 carats, cut with 58 facets. In the opinion of many who had inspected it, Jonker I is perhaps the most perfectly cut gem in existence. Whenever it was put on exhition in various parts of the United Statres it attracted even more attention than the rough stone had ever done.

In 1949 King Farouk of Egypt bought the gem, but following his deposition and subsequent exile in 1952 its whereabouts became a mystery. It reappeared, however, in the ownership of Queen Ratna of Nepal. In 1977 it changed hands again when it was sold privately in Hong Kong for a reported $2,259,400 US. So far as is known the 1977 buyer of the diamond still remains the owner today.

The Jonker II, left, and Jonker VIII.

The exact location of the remaining gems is not known for sure. It was reported that the Maharajah of Indore was the purchaser of the Jonkers V, VII, XI and XII, while John D. Rockefeller Jr. was rumored to have been the buyer of Jonker X. On October 16th, 1975 the Jonker IV, set in a platinum ring, came up for auction at Sotheby Parke-Bernet Inc. in New York and was sold to a South American private collector for 276,609. On that occasion the gem was given a superb gemological rating -- a tribute to both the quality of the original rough stone and to the skill of Lazare Kaplan, the master cutter who had fashioned it thirty years earlier. The same diamond came up for sale again in New York in December of 1987, when it fetched $1,705,000. Finally, Jonker II, with a slightly reduced weight of 40.26 carats, was sold by Sotheby's Geneva location, in May of 1994, for $1,974,830. Sources: Famous Diamonds by Ian Balfour, Diamonds - Famous, Notable and Unique by GIA, and various articles (will post them when I can find them again). AM DIAMONDS! STOP STEALING MY STUFF!