Frank Perdue's Widow to Auction 400-Year-Old Emerald in Support of Ukraine

November 3, 2022

Four hundred years ago, a galleon named Nuestra Señora de Atocha was making a return trip to Spain from the New World when it was hit by a squall and sank along the reefs near the Florida Keys.

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This was no ordinary ship. It was packed to the rafters with treasures 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 ship was finally discovered 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 kept was a rough emerald that he would have cut into a 6.25-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.

The homespun chicken entrepreneur — who coined the phrase, "It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken" — passed away in 2005 at the age of 84.

On December 7, author and philanthropist Mitzi Perdue's 400-year-old historic emerald will hit the auction block at Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels Sale in New York, with all proceeds going to benefit humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. The auction house has set a high estimate at $70,000, but due to the gem's provenance and charitable nature of the offering, it could sell for much more.

According to Artnet News, Mitzi was inspired to support Ukraine after visiting the country this past summer.

“I fell in love with the brave Ukrainian people and left with the deepest desire to do whatever I could to support the war-torn country,” said the human rights activist, who also happens to be the heiress to the Sheraton Hotels fortune (her dad co-founded the chain).

Mitzi told Fox News Digital, "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."

The 81-year-old philanthropist holds degrees from Harvard University and George Washington University, is a past president of the 40,000 member American Agri-Women and was one of the U.S. Delegates to the United Nations Conference on Women in Nairobi.

She was a syndicated columnist for 22 years and authored more than 1,800 newspaper and magazine articles on family businesses, food, agriculture, the environment, philanthropy, biotechnology, genetic engineering and women’s health.

Her historic emerald ring will be on public display starting November 30 at Sotheby's in New York City.

Credit: Image courtesy of Sotheby's.