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January 2021 Treasure of the Month

We begin the new year with our Treasure of the Month for January, this pair of earrings from the famous “Queen’s Jewels” find of 1993. What were the “Queen’s Jewels”? Well, here is the story.

In 1714 Maria Louisa of Savoy, wife of King Philip V of Spain, died. Seven months later in September 1714 the King married Elizabeth Farnese of Italy by proxy. It is reported that she stipulated to Philip that the marriage would not be consummated until she was decked with the jewels of her choosing. These jewels were to be part of the treasure being shipped from the New World to Spain on the 1715 Fleet. Unfortunately, the jewels never arrived as a hurricane struck the Fleet in the early morning hours of July 31, 1715. One by one the ships of the great Fleet were lost on the deadly reefs of east Florida and the “Queen’s Jewels” along with them. Did these jewels actually exist, or was it all a legend?

In the summer of 1993 noted diver and treasure hunter Bob Weller, his wife Margaret, and crew were working the Corrigan’s Wreck site located a few miles north of Vero Beach. Not finding much of interest at that location Weller decided to try his luck at the Cabin Wreck site located about 12 miles north of Corrigan’s. He had never worked the “Cabin Wreck” site before as he was involved in other wreck sites to the south.

It was July 3.  Weller was planning to work the site for one day and then return to Corrigan’s. However, it was not to be. Before the day was over, Weller and his crew recorded one of the greatest finds in Fleet history. They had recovered several items of jewelry that were so stunningly beautiful that he referred to them as the “Queens Jewels”. Included in this group was a 3 ½ “ x  2 ½ “  “Butterfly Brooch” created in the image of a bow of ribbons. The brooch contained 161 rose-cut and emerald-cut diamonds with a one-inch diameter rosette array in the center of the brooch. In addition was its companion piece a “Floral Brooch”. This brooch was 3 ¼ “ x 3 ¼ “. Due to their design it is believed that these items were crafted by the same artisan.

Butterfly Brooch
Floral Brooch

Also found was our current Treasure of The Month, a pair of earrings. But, the most astonishing part of the story was that the earrings were not found together and, in fact, not even on the same day! One earring was found on July 3 and its mate on July 9, almost a full week later. The probability of finding both earrings in the vast Atlantic after 278 years is impossible to calculate, but it happened.

Close up of earrings.

Our gold drop earrings were made in three pieces with a gold wire for hanging from a pierced ear. Each earring is inlaid with 53 diamonds. The lower part is in the shape of a “pineapple” which is a significant fact given that survivors of the disaster in letters and sworn testimony mention jewels for the Queen of Spain. Specifically, reference is made to a pair of gold drop earrings made in three pieces “with the lower part being in the shape of a pineapple”. Also, it was mentioned that the Queen’s jewels were not recovered during the post disaster recovery operations.

Brooches and earrings. The “Queens Jewels.”

So, whether the “Queen’s Jewels” are fact or legend, there is no doubt that the jewels found by Bob Weller and his crew during one hot July in 1993 were certainly fit for a Queen. The Butterfly Brooch, Floral Brooch, and earrings currently reside in a private collection.

Much of the information for the text of this article came from the Plus Ultra Newsletter, 3rd Quarter, 1993 and Ernie Richards. Also, many thanks to Margaret Weller who was present when these jewels were found and offered background commentary.

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