Rare emeralds found in 400-year-old shipwreck to fetch millions


Updated 12th August 2022

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This 887-carat raw emerald, one of the largest known rough emeralds from the Muzo mines, is probably the largest such emerald in the United States, according to Guernsey's. Marcial de Gomar believes the stone could yield a 400-carat polished gem, but the auction house says he would prefer that it be preserved, perhaps in a museum.

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Cleopatra wore them. Elizabeth Taylor loved them. Egyptians believed they could bring eternal life. Though diamonds enjoy the reputation of being a girl's best friend, emeralds in fact are more rare -- and more valuable.

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"Sought after for their rich color, regal history and identifiable look, emeralds are one of the most iconic gemstones in the jewelry industry," Amanda Gizzi, a spokesperson for Jewelers of America, a New York-based trade association, said in an email.On April 25, the public will have the opportunity to own some of the most magnificent and valuable emeralds in the world, when they go up for sale at Guernsey's auction house in New York


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Sunken treasure

One of the highlights of the sale is a collection of cut emeralds from the great Spanish shipwreck Nuestra Señora de Atocha, a galleon that sank off the Florida coast in 1622. The wreck is considered "the most valuable known shipwreck in history," according to the catalog accompanying the sale, largely thanks to its numerous Muzo emeralds, which are prized for their deep, clear green.

When treasure hunter Mel Fisher set out to retrieve the galleon's lost bounty in the 1980s, he hired Marcial to help him appraise the stones and jewels salvaged from the ship's wreckage.

Several of these stones, given to Marcial as payment for his work, are on offer in the Guernsey's sale, and include the Nine Pillars of Andes, a group of nine rough stones totaling over 91 carats and carrying an estimated price of $2.5 million to $3.5 million; and the 4.39 carat Queen of the Sea, estimated to sell for $250,000 to $350,000.

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Trends in jewelry that see a rising popularity in colored stones have also made emeralds especially desirable in recent years. In fact, Gizzi predicted 2023 "will be a big year" for colored stones, including emeralds.


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Members of the beryl family of minerals, emeralds obtain their rich green color through chromium, vanadium or iron deposits in the mines. In the process, most stones form inclusions, tiny fractures or bubbles within their structure that can make them especially fragile.



Nine pillars of the Andes

With more than 20 cut and raw stones and 13 spectacular pieces of jewelry, the rare emeralds on offer all come from a single collection that was compiled by emerald specialist Manuel Marcial de Gomar throughout his long career in the emerald industry.


The Conquistadora as a necklace

The Conquistadora as a necklace Credit: Image: Courtesy Guernseys


Unique and untouched

Also included in the sale is the 887-carat La Gloria, which Guernsey's bills as "one of the largest museum-quality emeralds in the world," (estimate $4-5 million); and the Marcial de Gomar Star Emerald, the largest star emerald ever found (estimate $2-3 million), notable for its double-sided cabochon, and one of only 11 star emeralds known to exist.





Updated January 31 2022