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April 2023 Treasure of the Month

Emeralds! That is the focus of our Treasure of the Month for April. These stones were an important part of the treasure recovered from the wreck sites of the 1715 Fleet. During the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries, raw emeralds from the mines of Colombia (both Chivor and Muzo) were being sent back to Spain on treasure fleets. While some archival records containing ships’ manifests do list chests of emeralds as cargo, it is believed that a large number of stones were smuggled onboard as contraband. In addition to emeralds, other gemstones such as amethyst, aquamarine, and blue mist quartz crystals were also shipped back to Spain.

Our featured stones are from a private collection of 1715 Fleet–related artifacts and treasures. They have been recovered in a raw, uncut state (as seen in the images below) and also as part of jewelry and religious items.

Uncut emerald
Uncut emerald, close up
Uncut emerald, for scale.

The emerald is a gemstone colored by trace elements of chromium and vanadium. Colombia is by far the world’s largest producer of emeralds, so all the uncut emeralds found on1715 Fleet are from that location. It should be noted that not all uncut fleet-related emeralds are a pristine deep green color. Usually they are washed out and look like hard, green-colored rock. The image below is an example of an exquisite natural 9.5-carat raw emerald from the Muzo mine, Boyacá Department, Colombia. Because of its beauty, this particular stone has been graded AAA, indicating the highest color saturation and clarity. It was recovered in January 2023 by Mike Blanchard, who regularly hunts the Treasure Coast for fleet-related items. He observed this stone lying amongst some small shells washed up after a period of high winds and turbulent surf conditions. To date Mike has recovered fifty-nine raw high-grade emeralds that can be attributed to the 1715 Fleet.

Some of the most beautiful examples of emeralds found on the 1715 Fleet are in jewelry or religious items. Below are examples of emeralds set in jewelry (a ring) and a cross (found in a gold box).

Emerald set in ring.
Emeralds set in cross jewelry.

Many thanks to Mike Blanchard for providing many of the images and much of the historical information used in this article. Mr. Blanchard is a professional historical shipwreck researcher, recovery diver, and artifact conservator, as well as an avid beachcomber and metal detectorist. He also contributed to a publication about emeralds of the 1715 Fleet. He has been involved in various capacities with many well-known projects involving not only the 1715 Fleet but also the fleets of 1622 and 1733. He has undertaken special archaeological research expeditions to the sunken pirate city of Port Royal, Jamaica, the pirate Henry Jennings Estate in Bluefields, Jamaica, the multiple Jamaican estates of Henry Morgan, and the original Pirate Republic in New Providence, (Nassau). Mike makes his home in Vero Beach, Florida.

For more about emeralds see our Treasure of the Month for March, 2016.

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