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Emerald stone from sunken Spanish galleon auctioned in New York for $1.2 mn

New York, Dec 7 (EFE).- A 5.27-carat emerald stone recovered by a treasure hunter from Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha, which sank in 1622 off the coast of what today is the US state of Florida, was auctioned here Wednesday by Sotheby’s for $1,197,000.

The woman who had owned the gem prior to the sale – 81-year-old Mitzi Perdue, widow of American chicken magnate Frank Perdue – had pledged to donate the proceeds to support humanitarian efforts in Ukraine.

The hammer price (before fees and taxes) was $950,000, or nearly 20 times the auction house’s estimated value of between $50,000 and $70,000. As is often the case at auctions, the identity of the buyer has not yet been revealed.

Mitzi Perdue had been given a ring bearing the emerald by her husband when he proposed marriage in 1988 and she wore it regularly while he was alive.

The business magnate, who died in 2005, had gained possession of the gem as part of his bounty for investing in a 16-year search for the Atocha carried out by Mel Fisher.

The treasure hunt finally proved successful in 1985, when Fisher found the wreckage of the galleon and the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of treasure it contained near the Florida Keys.

Hours before Wednesday’s auction, the chairman and editor-in-chief of Forbes Media, Steve Forbes, had sought to stir up interest in the auction when he hailed Perdue’s pledge to use the proceeds to support humanitarian aid efforts in Ukraine.

In a brief message on his website, he urged multi-billionaires Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Warren Buffett and Mark Cuban to start a bidding war to drive up the emerald ring’s price.

Nuestra Señora de Atocha was the best known of a fleet of ships that sank in a hurricane in the Florida Straits on Sept. 6, 1622, with payloads of gold, silver and precious stones.

With Fisher’s help, Frank Perdue selected the most exquisite emerald stone from the bounty and hired New York jewelers to craft the engagement ring he gifted to Mitzi in 1988, Sotheby’s said.

Forty items from the bounty recovered from the Atocha, including an emerald cross, gold and silver ingots and 16th-century Spanish coins were auctioned off in 2015 in New York to mark the 30th anniversary of its discovery.

Now, on the 400th anniversary of the sinking of the galleon, nearly 1,000 jewels and artifacts from its bounty were recently displayed at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, which the bounty hunter founded in Key West in 1985, 13 years before his death.

Sotheby’s said the galleon’s payload contained around 180,000 coins, 24 tons of ingots struck from Bolivian silver, 125 gold bullion bars and other treasures.

Mitzi Perdue, an anti-human-trafficking advocate, says on her website that she visited Ukraine in August of this year to learn first-hand about that crime, which she writes about as a journalist.

Her first night in that country was “partly spent in a bomb shelter because of a rocket attack on the city where I was staying.”

“While there, I got to see for myself the viciousness of the Russian invaders, including how they systematically bombed police stations, destroyed police communications, and either stole or destroyed police cars. It was part of a Russian PSYOP (psychological operation) designed to make Ukrainians feel even less safe,” Perdue wrote.

“I left Ukraine with the deepest desire to do whatever I could to be useful to that war-torn country … that’s why I’m donating a historic emerald that is my most precious possession to help the Ukrainian cause.” EFE


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