Philanthropist and humanitarian Mitzi Perdue’s 400-year-old historic emerald hit the auction block at Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels Sale in New York last week and the results were stellar. Despite a modest pre-sale high estimate of $70,000, the 5.27-carat emerald mounted on a gold band drew a winning bid of $1.2 million with all the proceeds going to benefit humanitarian efforts in Ukraine.
The emerald in its rough form had been salvaged from the galleon named Nuestra Señora de Atocha, which sank along the reefs near the Florida Keys in 1622 after getting caught in a storm. The ship was making its return trip to Spain with a hull full of treasure collected from Bolivia, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, the Caribbean and the Andes. The bounty included 24 tons of silver ingots, 180,000 silver coins, 125 gold bars and discs, 70 pounds of emeralds and a cache of precious natural pearls.
Lost for 363 years, the Atocha was finally discovered in 1985 by treasure hunter Mel Fisher with the assistance of some high-profile benefactors, such as chicken magnate Frank Perdue. Fisher and his team would eventually recover artifacts with an estimated value of more than $1 billion, and Perdue was awarded a portion of the spoils, most of which he donated to Delaware Tech and the Smithsonian.
One item that he decided to keep was a rough emerald that he would have cut into a 5.27-carat finished stone and mounted in an engagement ring for the love of his life, Mitzi. He proposed with the octagonal-shaped, step-cut gem in 1988.
"My late husband was the most philanthropic person I ever knew," Perdue told Town & Country, "and I was certain that he'd be pleased with this use of his gift."
Regarding her emotional connection to the emerald, she told T&C that the "sentimentality reaches to the outer galaxies."
"But when I was deciding whether to do it or not, I was thinking, 'Oh, this ring has the possibility of saving people from a lot of suffering," she said.
On her website, the human rights activist, who also happens to be the heiress to the Sheraton Hotels fortune (her dad co-founded the chain), explained that the proceeds from the sale of her engagement ring will purchase warm clothes, flashlights, small generators and other items requested by the Mayors of Lviv and Kyiv.
In addition, some of the funds will go to rehabbing buildings on the Ukrainian border, where women can be counseled before they cross.
"Human traffickers prey on the vulnerable," she wrote, "and during the Ukraine war, traffickers lurk on Ukraine’s borders, targeting women and children. The goal is to keep them from making a decision that may cost them their lives."
Perdue has developed a deep fondness and respect for the Ukrainian people.
"I spent five days there," the 81-year-old Harvard grad told T&C. "My first night was in a bomb shelter, so it was eventful, but I came away with just infinite admiration for the people of Ukraine and their strength, their backbone and courage."
In addition to supporting Ukraine with the proceeds from the sale of her engagement ring, Perdue also pledged all the proceeds from her new book, Relentless: Mark Victor Hansen.
Credits: Ring image courtesy of Sotheby's. Photo of Mitzi and Frank Perdue courtesy of Mitzi Perdue.
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