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Trinkets began as treasure

Sunken ship's ingots turned into jewelry

Jack Magne shook his head in dismay when folks buying silver ingots brought up from a sunken Spanish galleon indicated the treasure was simply an investment.

They told me their plans were to put the ingots in safe deposit boxes and bank vaults as investments, said the Etna, Calif., businessman. It struck me that this treasure had been buried for three and a half centuries and now they were just going to bury it all over again.

The entrepreneur had other ideas after attending the Las Vegas auction of treasure from Nuestra Senora de Atocha, a ship that famed treasure hunter Mel Fisher found about 50 miles west of Key West, Fla. The ship sank in a hurricane in 1622, carrying some 47 tons of silver and more than 7,000 ounces of gold.

Magne, who met with Fisher during that 1987 auction, wanted to melt the ingots down to make jewelry that would be replicas of those found on the Atocha. Fisher, who has since died, was enthusiastic that members of the public would have a chance to buy a piece of the treasure, Magne said.

Magne launched Treasure Sails Inc. the following year. Since then, he has been selling pieces of the treasure throughout the country.

He will offer a limited amount of jewelry made from ingots from the Atocha from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday in the Cascade Room of the Doubletree Hotel in Medford. Each item will be accompanied by a certificate of authenticity, he said.

Most of the items cost between $30 and $150, although some are priced higher.

This is not every day cookie-cutter jewelry, he said. It has meaning and significance. It's like shaking hands with history.

The ingots purchased by Magne are sliced, with each piece melted down and made into pieces of jewelry -- earrings, rings, crosses and pendants, that are replicas of those found on the ship, he said. All of the items were once part of the Atocha treasure, he said.

Each piece has its own story, he said.

During Saturday's presentation, Magne will talk about the history of the ship and the fascination with historic treasure.

What attracts people to treasure is the beauty, romance and mystique that is inherent in it, he said. It gives them a sense of going back in time.

The Atocha is the most famous treasure ship of all time, he said, noting Fisher's long struggle to find it, followed by his battle with the government to keep the bounty.

The treasure, which had been bound from South America to King Phillip IV, was brought up by Fisher in 1985.

When Mel won the case and got the treasure, he was a hero in a lot of people's eyes, Magne said.

The ship carried more than 960 silver ingots, weighing an average 75 pounds each. They sold for up to $40,000 apiece.

Magne, who recalls being fascinated by books such as Treasure Island when he was a boy, still has a silver ingot left.

We all like stories about buried treasure, he said. People want to be able to hold a piece of history in their hands.

The precious metal that sank with a Spanish ship in the 17th century is now jewelry, thanks to Jack Magne and his Treasure Sails Inc. - Photo by Steve Johnson