Granny’s Chips - how the most valuable brooch in the world, thought to be older than the dinosaurs, ended up with this peculiar nickname

Granny’s Chips might not be a name which exudes luxury, but the diamonds that make up the brooch amount to a staggering 158 carats

Granny's Chips are actually some of the most valuable diamonds in the world
(Image credit: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

The Queen has many spectacular jewels and trinkets from all over the world, but one could argue that Granny’s Chips have the most fascinating history and holds deeply sentimental value because of who gave them to Her Majesty.

Granny’s Chips. You might think this just refers to visiting your grandmother and raiding her pantry for potato chips. Or, if you were thinking of the Brits, you might think of a greasy serving of fish and chips.

However, when dealing with the Royal Family, Granny’s Chips are something much bigger. Much, much bigger.

Say, the most valuable brooch in the whole world cut from a diamond formed up to 400 miles below the earth’s surface. A bag of Dorito’s, these are not.

How the Queen’s brooch predates the dinosaurs - the history of the Cullinan diamond

Made of two diamonds cut from the legendary Cullinan diamond, Granny’s Chips is one of the most expensive diamond brooches in the world.

With a total weight of 3106 carats (a hefty 621.35 grams), the Cullinan is the largest gem-quality rough diamond ever found.

The Cullinan Diamond became separate stones

(Image credit: DiamondGalaxy)

The Cullinan is renowned not only for its size, but for its clarity and clear white color, which remain to this day the gold standard for rough diamonds.

The diamond bears the name of the founder of the Premier Mine (since renamed the Cullinan Mine) in South Africa, where it was first found in 1905. For fans hoping that maybe one day they’ll have their own masterpiece, luckily the Cullinan Mine is still in operation.

The Cullinan is a one-of-a-kind gem and scientists estimate that it was formed between 250 and 400 miles below the earth’s surface over 1 billion years ago, far preceding the time dinosaurs roamed the Earth and, in fact, before any life on our planet.

King Edward VII received the Cullinan as a badge of loyalty from the South African British Colony.

A diamond of such history, there’s plenty of urban legends around it, too. One has it that the irreplaceable diamond was sent to England in a completely ordinary parcel, unguarded. A replica was sent, heavily guarded, on a steamboat, to confuse and deter any potential thieves.

Queen Mary with the Granny's Chips brooch

(Image credit: W. & D. Downey Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Another legend which most historical sources hold to be true is that the craftsman assigned to cut the diamond, Joseph Asscher, fainted when he first cleaved it.

He tried to cut the diamond a few days prior, but it was so hard that it broke his tools.

How the Cullinan diamond became Granny’s Chips

Once the diamond was in England, it’s understood that it took over 18 months for a team of craftsman to transform the diamond into a selection of gems which would become part of the Crown Jewels, and the personal collections of notable family members.

The Cullinan was cut into smaller stones, and each one was given a Roman numeral, from I to IX.

The largest is the 530.20-carat Cullinan I, also known as the Great Star of Africa. Cullinan I and the 317.40-carat Cullinan II diamonds are part of the British crown jewels.

The Cullinan III and Cullinan IV weigh 94.4 and 63.6 carats, respectively, and have the official title of the Lesser Stars of Africa. It’s inferred that, in classic dry British humor, the fact that these smaller gems were a chip off the huge diamond, the royal family jokingly called them “chips.”

The Queen wore her Granny's Chips at her Diamond Jubilee

(Image credit: Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

It was these diamonds which the King gave to the Asscher Brothers as their gift for cutting the original stone.

It’s understood that, after some time, South Africa purchased them back and then gifted the gems to Mary, the future Queen Consort. In 1911, she first wore the two-diamond clip at her coronation in Westminster Abbey.

Queen Mary eventually gifted her beloved brooch to her granddaughter, Elizabeth – who would become Queen Elizabeth II.

To this day, the fact that the nickname Granny’s Chips remains is proof that, despite the mega worth of the jewels, it’s first and foremost a beloved family heirloom and a reminder that even Her Majesty was just someone’s granddaughter at one point.

Jack Slater
Freelance writer

Jack Slater is not the Last Action Hero, but that's what comes up first when you Google him. Preferring a much more sedentary life, Jack gets his thrills by covering news, entertainment, celebrity, film and culture for woman&home, and other digital publications.

Having written for various print and online publications—ranging from national syndicates to niche magazines—Jack has written about nearly everything there is to write about, covering LGBTQ+ news, celebrity features, TV and film scoops, reviewing the latest theatre shows lighting up London’s West End and the most pressing of SEO based stories.