In waters about 35 miles west of Key West, modern-day treasure hunters searching the shipwreck site of a famous Spanish galleon have found a large emerald and gold ring buried below the ocean’s floor.
The crew of Mel Fisher’s Treasures salvage vessel, which made the discovery, estimates its value at $500,000. The rare emerald, which likely came from the Muzo mines in Colombia, is about 10 carats. The antiquity and ornate design carved into the exterior also add to the ring’s value.
“Of course, an independent third-party expert will evaluate the ring when it is brought back here,” said Sharon Wiley, a spokeswoman for Mel Fisher’s Treasures.
Vice president Sean Fisher, the grandson of the late Mel Fisher, was on board the salvage vessel JB Magruder when the big discovery was made at the shipwreck site of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha. The Spanish galleon was the most famous ship of a fleet that was heading to Spain when a hurricane struck in 1622.
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“This is the most significant artifact I have personally seen them bring out of the water,” Fisher said in a statement.
The crew that found the emerald ring included Capt. Andy Matroci, who was one of two divers to discover the mother lode of the Atocha on July 20, 1985.
Last year, during the 25th anniversary of the discovery, Fisher said the search continues for the Atocha’s sterncastle, the rear part of the ship where the clergy, aristocrats and ship captain kept their valuables for safe keeping. The loot included gold, silver and many rare Muzo emeralds.
Fisher, who was 7 when the mother lode was found, said about 60 pounds of emeralds were believed to be on the ship, some smuggled on board in a 70-pound keg to avoid the Spanish king’s 20 percent tax.
Discovered with the ring Thursday were two silver spoons and two silver encrusted objects, which will be examined in the conservation lab at Mel Fisher’s Treasures in Key West.
The find was within 300 feet of a gold rosary and gold bar that were unburied earlier this year.
“It is exciting because we are moving into virgin territory, an area of the Atocha trail that has never been worked,” Matroci said in a statement.
The crew is continuing the meticulous search through several feet of sand and shells along a trail that goes about 10 miles. The crew will return to Key West today at the earliest.
Mel Fisher’s Treasures has been searching for the Atocha’s buried treasure since 1969; to date the company has recovered about $500 million in historic artifacts, gold, silver and emeralds.
The firm estimates that another $500 million from the Atocha is still buried and waiting to be discovered.