5-Carat Emerald Ring From 400-Year-Old Shipwreck Surfaces for Auction
Sotheby’s estimates the piece, pulled from the sunken Nuestra Señora de Atocha, could sell for $50,000-$70,000.
Sotheby’s has unveiled a 5.27-carat octagonal step-cut emerald ring that will appear in its New York jewelry auction next month, salvaged from the wreck of the Spanish ship Nuestra Señora de Atocha.
The Casa de Contratación, a Spanish government agency that tried to regulate the country’s exploration and colonization efforts, commissioned the Atocha. It was constructed in Cuba and crossed the Atlantic Ocean to Spain in late 1620.
In March 1622, the Atocha joined the Tierra Firma fleet and departed Spain for the West Indies. In Cartagena, Colombia, and Portobelo, Panama, the belongings of the noble families and other passengers were loaded onto the galleon for the return journey to Spain.
When it set out in again in September 1622, it was the middle of hurricane season, and the Atocha only made it as far as the Florida Keys before hitting a squall and sinking along the reefs.
But the ship was far from forgotten—treasure hunters spent more than 300 years looking for it.
Mel Fisher, a diver interested in shipwrecks, started exploring the waters of the Florida coast in the 1960s in search of Spanish ships lost in the area, including the Atocha.
The lost ship was discovered in 1985, when Fisher’s team uncovered its main hull and, in it, a plethora of hidden treasure: about 180,000 coins and 24 tons of ingots made from Bolivian silver, as well as 125 bars of gold bullion from the Caribbean, Mexico, and the Andes, among many other items.
The ship’s detailed log also recorded 70 pounds of rough emeralds from Colombia, sourced at Chivor and Muzo.
As a patron of the Atocha recovery, the late agri-business pioneer Frank Perdue, founder of the eponymous poultry farming company, was given some of the treasures pulled from the shipwreck, including silver, gold coins, and gems.
Though he later donated most of the coins and other artifacts to Delaware Tech and the Smithsonian Institution, there was one jewel he kept—an emerald he had cut and mounted in a ring to propose to his wife, author and philanthropist Mitzi Perdue, in 1988.
The emerald heads to Sotheby’s straight from her personal collection. It’s expected to sell for between $50,000 and $70,000.
The ring will be offered at Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels sale on Dec. 7 in New York—its auction debut—with proceeds from the sale supporting humanitarian efforts in Ukraine.
It joins many other notable jewels in the auction, including the 303.10-carat “Golden Canary” diamond, the largest flawless or internally flawless diamond ever graded by GIA.
Both will be on display at Sotheby’s York Avenue galleries beginning Nov. 30 as part of its “Luxury Week” sales series.
“I’m overjoyed to offer this extraordinary piece from my private collection. While I have cherished my beautiful engagement ring for over 30 years, I would like to use it now to benefit the great people of Ukraine,” Mitzi said.
“I am honored to partner with Sotheby’s in offering this jewel for auction this year, on the 400th anniversary of the Atocha Shipwreck, and I know my late husband, Frank Perdue, would share my desire to help those in dire need.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated on Dec. 8, 2022 to reflect a carat weight change from 6.25 carats to 5.27 carats, per an updated report from AGL, which also confirmed the emerald is of Colombian origin with minor, traditional treatment.
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