Perdue emerald sells at auction for more than $1 million

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Perdue emerald sells at auction for more than $1 million

Courtesy Sotheby's

The widow of the late Perdue Farms CEO Frank Perdue will donate all proceeds from the sale to benefit humanitarian efforts in Ukraine

The emerald engagement ring that the late Perdue Farms CEO Frank Perdue gave to his third wife, Mitzi, in 1988 has sold at auction for more than US$1 million, with proceeds going to benefit humanitarian efforts in Ukraine.

The ring, marked as “historically significant” by Sotheby’s, which auctioned the ring on December 7, was made from an emerald found on a Spanish shipwreck from more than 400 years ago off the Florida Keys. Based on the condition of the gem, the ring is valued between US$50,000 and US$70,000, but an anonymous bidder apparently found more value in the historical significance and the cause the proceeds would benefit and bought the ring for US$1.2 million.

According to Sotheby’s website, the 5.27-carat emerald-cut emerald is in excellent condition and is of Colombian origin.

“The emerald is richly saturated, medium deep very slightly bluish green, slightly to moderately included, with some surface-reaching inclusions, the crown facets heavily abraded, with cavities, scratches and a couple small nicks to the table,” Sotheby’s said.

More than 300 years underwater

The emerald was among the many treasures aboard the Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha when it sank during a hurricane off the Florida Keys in 1622. Much of the shipwreck, including 180,000 coins and large amounts other precious metals, as well as 70 pounds of rough-cut emeralds, was recovered in 1985 by a treasure-hunting expedition partially funded by Frank Perdue, who died in 2005. Diver and treasure hunter Mel Fisher spent more than 16 years exploring the seabed in the area in search of the wreck. Frank Perdue was urged by a friend to sign on as a patron of the expedition, according to The New York Times, and he and Fisher bonded over their shared history of chicken farming.

When the treasure was discovered, Perdue was given a share of the bounty proportional to his investment, most of which he donated to the Smithsonian Institution and Delaware Technical Community College, where they are displayed as part of an exhibit called “Treasures of the Sea,” the Times said. Perdue held on to a gold doubloon and the emerald. Fisher and Perdue “worked with famed emerald lapidaries Reginald C. Miller and Jerrold Green of New York to select the best possible emerald crystals from their collection so that a fine gem could be cut for each of them,” Sotheby’s said.

“Mr. Perdue met the woman who would become his third wife at a party in Washington, D.C., not far from his home in Maryland,” the New York Times reported. “They courted by phone for about a month — Ms. Perdue was living in California at the time — and the next time they saw each other, she said, he went to his safe and retrieved the emerald ring. They were married in 1988.”

Proceeds going to a good cause

After writing a blog on the issue of the potential for human trafficking during the war in Ukraine, Mitzi Perdue was invited to visit the country by General Andriy Nebytov, head of the Kyiv Regional Police. She has called the experience “harrowing” and “profound” and decided to contribute to the cause.

“My late husband was the most philanthropic person I ever knew,” she said, “and I’m certain he would feel that the highest and best use of this emerald is to help prevent suffering in Ukraine.”

On her website, Perdue – writer, businesswoman, activist and heir to the Sheraton hotel chain – said “some of the proceeds will go to providing warm clothes, flashlights, small generators and other items requested by the mayors of Lviv and Kyiv. Some of the funds will also go to providing shelters on the borders of Ukraine. Here’s why they’re needed: Human traffickers prey on the vulnerable, and during the Ukraine war, traffickers lurk on Ukraine’s borders, targeting women and children.”

She added that some of the money from the sale of the emerald will also go to “rehabbing buildings on the border where women can be counseled before they cross. The goal is to keep them from making a decision that may cost them their lives.”