Michigan jeweler, bored amid coronavirus, closes up shop, buries inventory and sells treasure hunts

J&M Jewelers owner Johnny Perri said he got the idea after reading about New Mexico antiquities dealer Forrest Fenn

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A Michigan jeweler, frustrated with the coronavirus pandemic and looking for ways to support himself and keep busy, decided to shut down, pack up his inventory, and bury about $1 million of it around the state – in order to sell treasure hunts instead.

Johnny Perri has been a jeweler for most of his life – learning the trade from his father and running a family business in Washington Township for more than two decades, according to his website.

But the COVID-19 pandemic stifled his business, and he was “going stir crazy” at home amid the coronavirus shutdown, “anxiously wanting to do something but with nothing to do.”

Then, he said, he saw a news report about someone having finally found the infamous Forrest Fenn treasure – a literal chest full of gold that Fenn, a New Mexico antiquities dealer, purportedly hid in the Rocky Mountains a decade ago.

In this July 4, 2014 photo, Forrest Fenn poses at his Santa Fe, N.M., home.

In this July 4, 2014 photo, Forrest Fenn poses at his Santa Fe, N.M., home. (Luis Sanchez Saturno/Santa Fe New Mexican via AP)

An anonymous treasure hunter dug it up last month, according to Fenn, although skeptics have questioned whether the entire thing was a hoax.

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Either way, the story gave Perri the idea to bury his own treasure – a million dollars' worth of inventory taken off the shelves of his own shop, J&M Jewelers.

“What Mr. Forrest Fenn really wanted is what I found to be most unmistakably true,” Perri wrote on his website. “It was getting off the couch and out of the house and adventuring outdoors.”

So with Amy, his then-fiancée – whom he recently married – he set about burying hoards of treasure in “woods, rivers, streams, mountains and waterfalls.”

“We went through waterfalls, streams, we kayaked everywhere," he told Fox 2 Detroit. "As soon as I release the clues the race is on.”

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The clues are part of the hunts, which he calls “treasure quests.” They require a pre-purchased ticket and start at a specific date and time.

“You follow the riddle, you got a little wit, a little adventure in you, you'll find it quick,” Perri told Fox 2. “I don't expect it to go more than a week.”

Whoever finds the treasure first has the option of keeping it or selling it back to Perri at spot value. Prizes are currently worth about $4,000.

And “X” marks the spot – literally. He said he painted an X above, alongside, or below each treasure – in part to prevent hunters from destroying property or nature with unnecessary digging.

“I have buried not only my entire jewelry store but thousands upon thousands of dollars of gold, silver, diamonds & antiques in various locations in Michigan from the bottom to the upper peninsula,” Perri wrote on his websites. “Everything I have buried has a history and many memories attached to them that I have let go and placed in the ground for you to discover.”

Although, he hinted, the prizes might not always be buried – they could be otherwise hidden or even hanging from trees.

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The first quest kicks off on Aug. 1 at 10 a.m. ET with a prize of two 100-ounce bars of .999 silver – and tickets have already sold out at $50 per team of two.

A second is scheduled for two weeks later, with future dates not yet announced.