Sell With a Story: Historic Emeralds
Let’s jump right in with the story of a 400-year old emerald that has a fascinating modern twist. Travel back in time to 1622 on the route from South America to Mexico, all territory that was under Spanish rule.
Accompanied by many guards, a long train of mules moved doggedly forward burdened with gold, silver, jewels and more. The journey took longer than expected and when they finally reach the port city of Veracruz, the immense treasure required a full two months to catalog and load onto 28 galleons destined for Spain. Nuestra Senora de Atocha — called Atocha — was the largest and grandest of these ships. Her load included many tons of gold, silver, and emeralds.
It was August that the galleons finally left for a quick stop in Havana before returning to Spain. More delays kept them there. When the ships set to sea September 4, 1622, the captain knew only too well that at this time of year, severe storms were a possibility. Two days later, just south of the Florida Keys, the fleet encountered a hurricane. Wind stripped the Atocha’s sails then a wave smashed her against a reef breaking open her hull. The treasure sank to the bottom, followed soon after by the ship and all her occupants.
For years afterward, the Spanish Crown tried to recover the treasure and failed. Through the centuries, the story of the Atocha ‘s precious cargo passed from generation to generation.
The Atocha Star
In 1969, Mel Fisher and his partners began searching for the Atocha ruins. It took 16 long years, but on July 20, 1985, miraculously their commitment paid off. They made the Guinness Book of World Records by salvaging 40 tons of gold and thousands of Muzo emeralds, the finest to come out of Columbia. One of these was a 1AA emerald of excellent color and clarity, weighing 25.87 carats. In 1992, Mel gave this one to his wife Deo. When cut, it yielded a 12.72 emerald. Five years later, Mel died of cancer.
In 2008, Deo was dying of cancer and she donated the Atocha Star to raise money for cancer research. It found a remarkable home set in a solid gold eagle with a diamond-encrusted head. This statue required 18lbs of solid gold, 56 carats of diamonds and the Atocha Star valued between $3 million and $5 million.
It served as the prize for a global treasure hunt based on a book. The book’s royalties were to go towards cancer research. Sadly, book sales and the treasure hunt accomplished little and, in 2016, the eagle was stolen under questionable circumstances. I’ll leave that story for another day.
The Chalk Emerald
With superb clarity and deep green color, the 37.82-carat Chalk Emerald ranks among the finest Colombian historic emeralds. It formed the centerpiece of an emerald and diamond necklace owned by the Maharani of the former state of Baroda in India. In the 20th century, Harry Winston bought and set it in a ring purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Roy O. Chalk. In 1972, they donated it to the Smithsonian. The surrounding pear-shaped diamonds weigh 15 carats.
The Hooker Emerald
Extracted from an unidentified Colombian mine in the 16th or 17th century, Spanish Conquistadors sent the rough emerald to Europe for cutting and polishing. It was sold to the rulers of the Ottoman Empire and became part of the crown jewels. In 1908, with a smuggled it to Paris. Later, Tiffany & Co bought the 75.47 carat emerald at auction and set it in a tiara.
In 1950, Tiffany reset the stone in a platinum brooch surrounded with 109 round brilliant cut diamonds and 20 baguette diamonds for a total weight of 13 carats. Philanthropist Janet Annenberg Hooker purchased it in 1955. In 1977, she donated the brooch to the Smithsonian and they named it for her. The Hooker Emerald Brooch has been on display since 2010.
The Mughal Emerald
Originally mined in Columbia, the 217.8 carat Mughal Emerald is one the largest known historic emeralds. Its elaborate decoration makes it extraordinary. One side features Shi’a invocations engraved in an elegant script that includes the date 1107 A.H. (1695-1696 AD). The date is just one of many aspects that make the Mughal Emerald unique. The reverse side has a carved floral design that features poppies. The beveled edges bear a carved pattern. As of 2008, the Mughal Emerald found a home in the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar.
What are your favorite historic emeralds? Share pictures in the comments below. Read more about emerald history and lore HERE!