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Meet a master jeweler, treasure-seeker

By Staff | Jan 28, 2015

Bernard Reller (left) and Mel Fisher. PHOTO PROVIDED

Bernard Reller is a former salvage diver and treasure-seeker. He’s written a book on Spanish shipwrecks and the life of Mel Fisher, discoverer of the so-called mother lode in the Florida Keys in 1985. Fisher’s discovery of the Spanish Nuestra Senora de Atocha wreckage of 1622 yielded a treasure beyond any dream: 40 tons of silver, gold and jewels valued then at $450 million.

Reller today is a master jeweler and offers treasures from the Atocha and a number of other significant shipwrecks, either in replica or using metals recovered in Fisher’s Atocha find. Each piece is offered with a certificate of origin displaying all of the information available about the coin and a brief history of the shipwreck. The work is offered at the Lily & Co. shop in Sanibel.

The Islander asked Reller about his work and to share stories from his life in Florida.

Islander: What’s the work you’re doing for Lily & Co.? And why is it special?

Reller: Dan (Schuyler) and I have worked together over many years (30?) When he arrived on Sanibel, I again started providing sea life jewelry for Lily Co. What’s new about that is that we enjoy each other’s company and have so many common interests (diving, motorcycling, environmental concerns, camping, boatingetc). We figured we ought to work even more closely together to provide Sanibel visitors, and locals, the best possible selection of island jewelrycelebrating the Sanibel spirit. For instance, replica castings of exotic local sea shells, local sea life, sea birds, landmarks like the Sanibel lighthouse. This stuff has been done before but we want to present a complete collection with a fresh look… in both gold and sterling silver.

Bernard Reller (left) and Dan Schuyler. PHOTO PROVIDED

Next we’ll be partnering up to provide jewelry collections to represent and support local charities and conservation groups. For instance, Dan will be putting in a collection of logo jewelry representing (and supporting) the Sea Turtle Conservancy, my personal favorite marine environmental organization. The group is based here in Gainesville and is the oldest sea turtle support group on the planet. It serves as an umbrella group for conservation organizations around the world. It was started in the 1950s by Dr. Archie Carr, researcher at UF who, through his personal consciousness raising efforts around the Caribbean, saved the Green Sea Turtle from certain extinction (National Seashore Wildlife Refuge near Melbourne named in his honor).

Of course there’s the Shipwreck Treasure coins….Spanish Colonial “cob coins” from the famous “Atocha” wreck of 1622 and also the 1715 “Plate Fleet” that wrecked on Florida’s Treasure Coast — Ft. Pierce to Cape Canaveral — exactly 300 years ago this year.

Islander: You have a colorful history. For the armchair adventurer, are treasures still out there for the taking??

Reller: There are, indeed, more treasure wrecks to be found….and when Cuba opens up, I think we’ll see some interesting finds. That said, it is getting harder to get through the government controls being placed on wreck salvage work around the world.

Islander: In your adventures, who’s the most interesting person you’ve met?

Reller: Well that’s a good question…and a tough one that I’ve thought about for a while. The guy I worked for, Capt. John Leeper, was very interesting, a Pan Am pilot, boat builder/captain, treasure hunter. Certainly Mel Fisher, an adventurer, diver, salvor, huckster, though I confess that I did not know him intimately. But coming to mindright here in Ft. Myers is our friend David Hipschman. He was a managing journalist at the (San Francisco) Chronicle, a woodworker/cabinet maker in the Midwest, police officer in Wisconsin, aviation journalist/pilot at EAA, Oshkosh, licensed (100 ton + sail) captain, yacht broker. Oh, and he raised nice kids, has a wonderful wife (Dorrie, executive director for the Bailey-Matthews national Shell Museum). So thanks for making me remind myself why I like David. Come to think of it…Dan Schuyler is also a similarly interesting guy with diverse interests. I really like this kind of person…and willing to share information.