In a mystery fit for the tumultuous history of Russia's
ostentatious elite, the 8-cm (3-inch) golden egg was spirited out of
St Petersburg after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and then
disappeared for decades in the United States.
An unidentified man in the United States spotted the egg while
searching for scrap gold and purchased it for $14,000, hoping to
make a fast buck by selling it to the melting pot.
But there were no takers because he had overestimated the value of
the watch and gems tucked inside the egg.
In desperation, the man searched the Internet and then realized he
might have the egg that Russian Tsar Alexander III had given to his
wife, Maria Feodorovna, for Easter in 1887.
When the scrap metal man approached London's Wartski antiques
dealer, he was in shock.
"His mouth was dry with fear — he just couldn't talk. A man in
jeans, trainers and a plaid shirt handed me pictures of the lost
Imperial egg. I knew it was genuine," Kieran McCarthy, director of
the Wartski antique dealer, told Reuters.
"He was completely beside himself — he just couldn't believe the
treasure that he had," said McCarthy, who then traveled to a small
town in the U.S. Midwest to inspect the reeded yellow golden egg in
the man's kitchen.
Wartski acquired the egg for an unidentified private collector.
McCarthy said he could not reveal the identity of the man who found
the egg, its sale price or the collector, though he did say that the
collector was not Russian.
Reuters was unable to verify the story without the identities of
those involved and when questioned whether the story was perhaps too
fantastic to be true, McCarthy said:
"We are antique dealers so we doubt everything but this story is so
wonderful you couldn't really make it up — it is beyond fiction and
in the legends of antique dealing, there is nothing quite like
Rich Russians, who before the revolution once dazzled European
aristocracy with their extravagance, have since the 1991 fall of the
Soviet Union returned to stun the West by snapping up treasures,
real estate and even football clubs.
Metals tycoon Viktor Vekselberg bought a collection of Imperial
Faberge Easter Eggs for $90 million from the Forbes family in 2004.
The eggs were brought back to Moscow and put on exhibition in the
[to top of second column]
A Russian businessman with a passion for Tsarist treasures,
Alexander Ivanov, said he was behind the $18.5 million purchase of a
Faberge egg in London in 2007.
Peter Carl Faberge's lavish eggs have graced myths ever since they
were created for the Russian Tsars: Only royalty and billionaires
can ever hope to collect them. Current owners include Queen
Elizabeth and the Kremlin.
Tsar Alexander III asked Faberge to make one egg a year until his
son, the next Tsar Nicholas II, ordered him to make two a year — one
for his wife and one for his mother. The tradition ended in 1917
when Nicholas was forced to abdicate and he and his family were
executed by the Bolsheviks.
As Russia's rich rushed to the exits, treasures were sold off under
Vladimir Lenin and his successor Josef Stalin as part of a policy
known as "Treasures into Tractors".
The mystery golden egg, which opens to reveal a Vacheron Constantin
watch set with diamond set gold hands, was last recorded in Russia
in 1922, two years before Lenin's death. It will go on display in
London next month.
"It is nothing but wonderment and miracle — a miracle that the egg
survived," said McCarthy. "The treasure had sailed through various
American owners and dangerously close to the melting pot."
Peter Carl Faberge made some 50 imperial eggs for the Russian Tsars
from 1885 to 1916. Forty-two have survived, according to Faberge.
Some others were made for merchants.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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