A playful teenager, Erasmus Jacobs, picked up a white pebble on the banks of the Orange River, near his home in South Africa. He put the pebble into his pocket and kept it as a curious play thing for a month. He was involved in a game of “five stones” with his family when a neighbor, Schalk Van Niekerk, admired the stone and offered to buy it. Mrs. Jacobs, the boy’s mother, laughed at that proposition and refused any payment as she gave the stone to him as a gift.
The year was 1866. That “pebble” turned out to be a 21.25 carat rough diamond. The Eureka diamond was reported to be the first authenticated diamond found in South Africa. Van Niekerk brokered the stone through a traveling peddler named John O’Reilly. A value of $2,500 was established by a mineralogist and O’Reilly agreed to sell the rough, at that figure, to Sir Philip Wodehouse who arranged to display it, uncut, at the 1867 Paris exhibition.
Almost one-half of the original rough carat weight was lost in the cutting of the Eureka. Somewhere along the line, it was fashioned into an oval brilliant cut with a finished weight of 10.73 carats. The Eureka changed hands several times until it was purchased in 1966 by DeBeers Consolidated Mines and presented to the Parliament of South Africa in Cape Town, 100 years after it was used in a game of marbles by a young boy who found it.
Unlike most other notable diamonds that are important to historians and collectors, the Eureka is significant not because of its carat weight or unusual mysterious past but rather its heritage. It was the first diamond found in South Africa.
This diamond was known as the O’Reilly diamond for years. Speculation allows us to imagine that the name “Eureka” was most likely coined by Schalk Van Niekerk himself, when he learned that the pebble he showed to John O’Reilly was indeed, a diamond. This relationship between Van Niekerk and John O’Reilly continued and proved to be even more interesting in future transactions.