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Fabergé Eggs ARE Not
cheaper by the dozen

Back in Russia after many years' exile in the United States, Peter Carl Fabergé's fabulous "Coronation Egg," presented by Tsar Nicholas II to his wife at Easter 1897, has just gone on public display at the Kremlin.

The bejewelled egg, possibly the world's most expensive piece of decorative art, found a new owner early this year, when Russian businessman Viktor Vekselberg bought it from the wealthy Forbes family.

He was reported to have paid about 110 million U.S. dollars for The Forbes Magazine's Collection of Fabergé eggs and other Fabergé objects. The Coronation Egg alone was thought to be worth between $18m and $24m (that figure was an auction house estimate; the precise amount was not disclosed).

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to give back to my country one of its most revered treasures," Vekselberg declared.

The February 4 issue of Forbes Magazine reported:

Tsar Alexander III first commissioned the fabled eggs from the House of Fabergé in 1885 as an Easter gift to his wife. His son, Tsar Nicholas II, continued the tradition and the pieces have become a byword for treasures of rarity and value.

There are only 50 Imperial Easter Eggs in the world, including the nine sold to Vekselberg by the Forbes family. Ten are in the Moscow Kremlin Collection, five are at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Va., and Britain's Queen Elizabeth owns three. The whereabouts of eight are unknown. The others are in the U.S., Switzerland and Monaco.



Warner Bros. announced [on April 21] that principal photography on Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Twelve began last week in Chicago. The plot... revolves around the feud between Ocean and Terry Benedict. When Benedict gets close to proving Ocean's involvement in the Vegas heist, Ocean decides to carry out a bigger heist and pay him back.

He plots to steal the Vanderspeigle Getuigschrift, the first corporate stock certificate ever issued. This relic of the East India Trading Company resides in Amsterdam, Holland. The second job takes place in Rome. The target is the famous Coronation Egg...The film hits North American screens on December 10.
-- Brian Linder, in

In the National Geographic News on April 8, Jennifer Vernon wrote:

Fabergé Easter eggs have been prized possessions of the wealthy for over a century.

Crafted in the shops of Peter Carl Fabergé from 1885 to 1917, the eggs were designed primarily at the behest of Russian Tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II as annual Easter gifts for Tsarinas Maria and Alexandra...

Not all of the eggs were made for the Russian imperial family. Alexander Kelch, a Russian gold magnate and industrialist, gave his wife Barbara seven eggs between 1898 and 1904. The Duchess of Marlborough, formerly Consuelo Vanderbilt and the wealthiest young woman at the turn of the 20th century, also commissioned an egg of her own.

The Coronation Egg is the best-known of all the decorative objects Fabergé made. This is how it's described on a beautifully illustrated website prepared for an exhibition in Wilmington, Delaware (US), in 2000:

The egg is enameled a deep gold hue over guilloché sunburst patterns and blanketed by a gold trellis marked by diamond-set Imperial eagles at the intersections.

At the top of the egg is the crowned monogram of Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna emblazoned in rose-cut diamonds and rubies. The date 1897, appears beneath a smaller portrait diamond at the bottom of the egg.

When the egg is opened, the surprise fitted inside a velvet-lined compartment is a removable replica of a coach of gold, enamel, diamond and rock crystal.

Why did the late Malcolm Forbes spend millions of dollars collecting Fabergé Eggs? Writing in 1973 he recalled:

When very young I read with horrified fascination an abundantly illustrated volume on World War I. Its chapter about the Russian Revolution and the massacre of the Romanov family included a picture of a Fabergé Imperial Egg to illustrate the pre-War extravagance of Russia's rulers.

His son, Christopher Forbes, quoted his father's comment in an article in Forbes Magazine (January 8, 2004), adding:

It always annoyed my father when a visitor examining one of the Fabergé eggs would make an observation along the lines of "you can see why they had a revolution--such decadence!" That the ultimate creations of the House of Fabergé should be dismissed exactly as years of Soviet propaganda intended was especially galling to the chairman of a company whose flagship publication uses the moniker "Capitalist Tool."

Soviet "spin" not withstanding, Fabergé eggs were not baubles conceived by a fawning enterprise dedicated solely to pleasing an absolute sovereign, but rather the signature creations of a firm with ultimately more than 500 employees, four domestic branches and one overseas, as well as a catalog operation.

The Forbes Fabergé collection also includes cigarette cases, photograph frames and precious stone carvings. Sotheby's (New York) sold it on February 4, 2004 to the non-profit fund "Svyaz vremen" which Vekselberg set up especially for that transaction. Vekselberg is a co-owner and director of TNK-BP, Russia's fourth-largest oil company, jointly owned by Tyumen Oil Co. and British Petroleum.

According to Forbes magazine, Vekselberg's personal worth is estimated to be $2.5 billion.

The above story is a spin-off from an item in the May issue of our e-book, Emu Egg Carvers Go Hi-Tech. which has just been published by the UK foodzine Bare Ingredients.

After writing that article, we wondered whether Peter Carl Fabergé might have used ostrich or other eggs as foundations when fabricating his bejewelled works of art.

So we emailed Christel McCanless (Huntsville, Alabama, US) and Will Lowes (Adelaide, South Australia), of the Fabergé Research Site*, and asked them if that was possible. Will replied:

No, very unlikely. Natural shell eggs would have been too frail for a jeweler to use -- Fabergé used either hardstones such as nephrite, or gold or silver. However, he IS known to have carved from such hardstones, kangaroos, emus (a couple of superb examples are extant, including an emu of a beautiful striated stone in the Royal Collection) etc.

* Christel and Will's Fabergé Research Site




Story first posted June 2004

Copyright © 2004

Eric Shackle

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