Mitzi Perdue, heiress to the Sheraton Hotels fortune, is set to auction off an emerald ring that once laid at the bottom of the ocean for more than 360 years.
Perdue, the widow of the late Frank Perdue, former CEO of poultry farming company Perdue Farms, describes herself as human rights activist and wants to sell the jewel, said to be worth $70,000, to raise money for the people of Ukraine.
The impetus to sell the rare artifact came after a personal visit to the war-torn country earlier this year, where she was shown around Kyiv as a guest of the capital’s police force.
Perdue, who resides in Salisbury, Md., now wants to sell the engagement ring with the proceeds being sent to aide Ukrainian efforts to stop human trafficking.
A 6.25 carat octagonal step-cut emerald ring lost on a Spanish shipwreck for nearly four centuries before being rediscovered is to be auctioned by its current owner in December
The ring was given to Mitzi Perdue by her late husband Frank, right
Mitzi Perdue is now preparing to sell the ring and donate all proceeds to humanitarian efforts in Ukraine
The Nuestra de Atocha shipwreck is about 30 miles off the coast of Key West, Florida
The 6.25 carat octagonal step-cut emerald ring itself has an extraordinary history having been recovered during the 1980s from treasure that sank in the hull of the Nuestra Señora de Atocha, which was shipwrecked off the Florida coast.
The treasure, said to be valued at almost $400 million, but worth about $1.1 billion in today’s money, sunk in 1622 after sailing into a hurricane.
When the Atocha sank, it took the lives of 260 passengers and unimaginable wealth with it; it was being transported back to Spain’s King Philip IV.
In 1969, treasure hunter and diver Mel Fisher began a quest to find the Atocha’s treasures. It took him until 1985 before he could finally announce that he discovered the hull of the galleon.
When the Atocha sank, it took the lives of 260 passengers and unimaginable wealth with it. It was being transported back to Spain and King Philip IV
Zach Moore (pictured), an engineer at Mel Fisher’s Treasures, is pictured with a gold coin he discovered among the wreck
Zach Moore, a member of the crew from Mel Fisher’s Treasures salvage crew, found a gold coin
Johan Mora is seen using a metal detector underwater near the Nuestra Senora de Atocha shipwreck off Marquesas Keys, Fla., in 2010
In 1985, diver Mel Fishe uncovered the main hull of the Atocha, which contained a treasure of 180,000 coins, 24 tons of Bolivian silver, 125 bars of gold bullion
Attorney David Paul Horan of Key West, Florida, wears gold chains and holds gold bars that were recovered from the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Atocha
Divers from the Key West-based Treasure Salvors toast company president, Mel Fisher, right, on the discovery of hundreds of silver bars from the Spanish wreck of the Atocha in 1985
It contained a treasure of 180,000 coins, 24 tons of Bolivian silver and 125 bars of gold bullion together with a collection of rough-cut emeralds mined in Columbia.
The ring was later given to Mitzi as an engagement gift by her late husband, but its rarity means the emerald is ‘expected to go well into the six figures’ when it is auctioned on December 7.
‘When I was a child my father told me, ‘The greatest pleasure my money has ever given me is in giving it away.’ I took those words to heart and he became a role model for me for the rest of my life,’ Perdue told Fox News.
‘The current efforts I’m working on to provide humanitarian aid to the people of Ukraine include fundraising to build shelters for women along the Ukrainian border, so that they do not fall victim to human trafficking,’ she added.
Mitzi’s late husband who passed away in 2005 at age 84, ‘was one of the financial backers of the efforts to find the Atocha treasure — and as a backer, he received some of the recovered treasures,’ she explained.
‘Like my father, Frank was a lifelong philanthropist — and I know that he would share my conviction that donating this emerald to save people from terrible suffering is an extraordinarily worthy cause.’
Mitzi’s late husband who passed away in 2005 at age 84, ‘was one of the financial backers of the efforts to find the Atocha treasure — and as a backer, he received some of the recovered treasures’
An an emerald-encrusted crucifix is pictured along having been recovered from a Spanish ship that sank off the coast of Florida in 1622
The cross, made of 18-carat gold and set with seven high-quality emeralds from Columbia’s famous Muzo mine, was found on a shipwreck off the Nuestra Senora de Atocha
An exquisite gold chalice is among the items discovered by a treasure hunter from the wreckage of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha, the most famous vessel in a Spanish flotilla that sank after sailing into a hurricane
A Spanish gold bar is pictured having been recovered from a ship that sank in a storm en route back to Spain. She went down with 265 people on board, of whom only five survived
‘Almost all of the treasure, worth more than $1 billion, was donated to the Smithsonian Institute,’ auction house Sotheby’s told Artnet News. ‘This emerald is therefore one of—if not the last—major jewels from the Atocha shipwreck that is available for private acquisition.
‘Emerald deposits have naturally evolved over the course of centuries, so to have one dating back to the 17th century, or defined as ‘old mine,’ is exceptionally rare to come by,’ the auction house noted.
Frank Perdue helped to fund the expedition and was given some of the recovered haul. After donating the majority, he held onto an emerald which he had cut for and engagement ring which he used to propose to Mitzi in 1988.
Now aged 81, the multimillionaire philanthropist Perdue notes how at next month’s auction people will have the opportunity to bid on the ring while ‘at the same time make an amazing difference in the lives of potential victims of human trafficking in Ukraine.’
‘Even for those Ukrainians not displaced, the war heightens individuals’ risk of violence and trafficking. People living in these conflict zones are especially vulnerable to human trafficking,’ she explained.
Mitzi Perdue and Gen. Andriy Nebytov, head of the Kyiv region’s police force, during Perdue’s visit to Ukraine over the summer
Perdue, who resides in Salisbury, Md., wants to sell the engagement ring to aide Ukrainian efforts to stop human trafficking in the country. She is pictured in May of this year
‘The traffickers prey on the vulnerable and all too often, they promise a woman who’s desperate that they’ll provide food, shelter, a job and most of all, safety. In fact, the woman may end up sex-trafficked in a faraway country.
‘The Ukrainians, they’re fighting so hard and they deserve all of the support we can give them. They’re brave people.’
Should the ring’s auction generate $100,000, it would be enough to create a shelter where women can receive guidance and resources to prevent them from relying on a would-be trafficker for help, Perdue said.
‘A small amount of money can save a huge number of women from just unspeakable misery,’ she said.
It was her late husband, Frank Perdue who became known for running one of the world’s biggest chicken companies – even appearing in television commercials.
Perdue Farms was kept within the family for four generations and grew from annual sales of $56 million in 1970 to $2.8 billion in 2003.
Currently, the firm employs more than 20,000 people.
Owner Frank Perdue gives a thumbs up to the freshly plucked chickens travelling the production line in his Salisbury, Maryland in July 1984