By Barbara Liston
ORLANDO Fla. (Reuters) - A Florida family scavenging for sunken treasure on a shipwreck has found the missing piece of a 300-year-old gold filigree necklace sacred to Spanish priests, officials said on Tuesday.
Eric Schmitt, a professional salvager, was scavenging with his parents when he found the crumpled, square-shaped ornament on a leisure trip to hunt for artifacts in the wreckage of a convoy of 11 ships that sank in 1715 during a hurricane off central Florida's east coast.
After the discovery last month, a team of Spanish historians realized the piece fit together with another artifact recovered 25 years ago. It formed an accessory called a pyx, worn on a chain around a high priest’s neck to carry the communion host. The dollar value is uncertain.
"It's priceless, unique, one of a kind," said Brent Brisben, operations manager for Queens Jewels, which owns rights to the wreckage, located in 15-foot (4.5-meter) deep Atlantic Ocean waters.
Schmitt, who lives near Orlando, last year discovered about $300,000 worth of gold coins and chains from the same wreckage, Brisben said. Schmitt's parents have hunted for sunken treasure as a hobby for a decade.
By law, the treasure will be placed into the custody of the U.S. District Court in South Florida, Brisben said. The state of Florida may take possession of up to 20 percent of the find. The rest will be split evenly between Brisben's company and the Schmitt family.
(Editing by Letitia Stein and Sandra Maler)