In 1980, Manuel J. Marcial de Gomar moved Emeralds International from Hawaii to Key West and opened up on Duval St., never imagining that Key West and it’s surrounding waters would prove to yield a treasure trove of something he’d pulled himself out of the earth with his bare hands at the age of 19, i.e. rough Colombian emeralds (including fine emerald jewelry) recovered from the world famous sunken galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha. One day in 1985, Mel Fisher walked into Emeralds International looking for an expert to help him identify and evaluate the “green stones” he had found, and thus began a fascinating adventure for Marcial that was perfect timing considering his priceless hands on experience with Colombian emeralds as well as his rich Spanish heritage. These qualities have proven to be a unique combination that has set him apart from others when it comes to understanding the unique antiquity and rarity that the emeralds from this sunken galleon possess, something the industry and the population are still yet to fully realize and understand. These very gems and treasures that were part of the Spanish conquest and funded her war efforts against the English, have been recovered from as deep as 12ft below the sand in an ocean environment over 400 years later. Rarity upon rarity does not adequately describe the nature of these gems and their incredible durability that has been witnessed in their having withstood the harsh elements of the ocean for so many centuries and remained so well intact.
A crucial part of satisfying Marcials questions as to the authenticity of Fisher’s claim, came from the extensive knowledge of Colombian emerald mining and history as well as the superbly kept Spanish records of their fleets and mining operations.
The first and most important clue would be that the emeralds had to have come from one mining location in Colombia i.e. the most famous Colombian emerald mine, the Muzo mine. Had they shown characteristics of the Chivor mine, the very first mine Marcial worked at with the late Russ Anderton as an interpreter and exporter before becoming an independent miner, Marcial would have had to declare it a hoax for a number of reasons, primarily being that emeralds from Chivor and Muzo have distinct crystal characteristics and the Chivor mine had been shut at the time of the recovery of the emeralds in 1622 by order of papal decree, something the Spaniards took very seriously at the time. Immediately upon examining the emeralds, Marcial was able to determine their origin as of Muzo (documented by GIA in their Gems & Gemology Winter 1989 edition) and the most important clue that would prove the shipwreck origin of the emeralds, was the unique marine fossil diatoms (foraminifers) found here in the Florida Straits that require hundreds of years to form, something that would prove to be even more crucial in the case against the US government’s ongoing attempts at discrediting Fishers claims, who over a decade later after Fishers victory in the Supreme Court, sent 2 state agencies independently to interview Marcial and ask if it was possible that the emeralds could have been salted, i.e. intentionally placed into the ocean by Fisher, only to then try claim them as part of a shipwreck later. The unquestionable evidence and enlightening education shown and presented to the agents by Marcial, was more than clear but left them somewhat disappointed, perhaps at not being able to use this tactic as a means to get at Mel Fisher who passed away soon after.
The treasures of the Nuestra Señora de Atocha have proven to be an integral part of Marcial de Gomars 6 decade long career, and he has often said “It’s like having an emerald mine in my own backyard”! Many coins and emeralds were paid to Marcial by Mel over the decades, particularly when Mel was treasure rich and cash poor, in exchange for Marcials independent grading and appraising services which are still relied upon today by investors and the Florida Admiralty Court.
Who would’ve thought that the early adventures of emerald mining in Colombia would followed him all this way, some quarter century later, to Key West!