In 1955, a diver and explorer named Teddy Tucker was diving off of the coast of Bermuda when he discovered a Spanish shipwreck. The shipwreck is today thought to be that of the San Pedro, a sunken treasure galleon that was full to the gills with gold and other valuables. Among the valuables was one masterpiece, an item so gorgeous that it made the other amassed treasures pale by comparison: a large, 22-carat golden cross, inlaid with emeralds.
The stunning piece would be worth around $2 million today and was sold to the island of Bermuda to be displayed in a museum. Speaking on the expedition during which he discovered the cross, Tucker wrote in an autobiography: “When the debris settled, my eyes fell on a gold cross, lying face down in the sand. I picked it up and turned it over.
“Awestruck, I counted the large green emeralds on its face. There were seven of them, each as big as a musket ball. From small rings on the arms of the cross hung tiny gold nails, representing the nails in Christ’s hands, and at the foot was the ring for a third, which had been lost. The ornate carving, while beautiful, was somewhat crude, indicating that Indians had made the cross. It remains my most treasured discovery.”
From 1955 through at the latest 1975, the cross was on display in a museum in Bermuda. However, in early 1975, to commemorate the opening of the Bermuda Maritime Museum, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip were scheduled to visit the island and see the cross themselves. It was discovered while preparing for this visit that the cross had been stolen at some point in the intervening 20 years and replaced with a replica.
Having been originally on display at the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum & Zoo where Tucker worked as a young man, the cross was moved to the new museum in advance of the royal visit. When Tucker himself went to move the cross into a new display case, he realized that it was, in fact, a plastic fake, not the priceless artifact he had recovered from the deep.
The cross was likely stolen by experienced thieves who were careful enough to leave a convincing fake behind to cover their tracks. Experts believe the cross was not sold as a whole piece, as it would be instantly recognizable. Instead, it is either in a private collection, hidden from all prying eyes, or was broken down and sold for the raw value of the emeralds and gold that once comprised it. However, with no leads, the truth will likely never be known.