Lost Then Found: Imperial Fabergé Egg Goes on Display

It’s the ultimate Easter egg — crafted by Peter Carl Fabergé for Russian royals, no less — and it’s going on display for four days only from April 14 in London.

Containing a Vacheron Constantin watch within, the gold egg is one of only three Imperial Fabergé Easter Eggs known to have survived the Bolshevik Revolution. Sitting on an elaborate, jeweled gold stand and measuring 8.2 cm in height, it was a gift from Tsar Alexander III to his wife Tsarina Maria Feodorovna for Easter 1887, but later confiscated from the Empress in the turmoil of the Russian revolution. The other two eggs known to survive this historic period are the 1888 Cherub Egg with Chariot (a gold egg resting in a chariot drawn by a cherub), last recorded with Armand Hammer in New York in 1934; and the 1889 Necessaire Egg (heavily chased gold, set with pearls and gemstones, without a stand, containing 13 miniature toilet articles) and last recorded at Court Jewellers Wartski in June 1952.

It’s a diminutive object with a life story of epic proportions.

It was last seen in public in March 1902, when it was shown in the Von Dervis Mansion exhibition of the Russian Imperial Family’s Fabergé collection in St. Petersburg, but last recorded in Moscow in 1922 when the Soviets decided to sell it as part of their policy of turning “Treasures into Tractors.” For years after that, it was presumed to be lost forever — until a picture in a 1964 catalogue for Parke Bernet, the New York auction house later acquired by Sotheby’s, described it as a “Gold Watch in Egg-Form Case” that was sold for just $2,450 to a female buyer in the South.

The story gets better.

After that buyer died in the early 2000s and her estate sold off, the egg found its way to a bric-a-brac market where an American scrap metal dealer in the Midwest bought it for $14,000, based on its weight and estimated value of the diamonds and sapphires featured in the decoration. His plan to sell the gold for its scrap metal value — which explains why the egg has several scratches on it where the metal was tested for its gold content — backfired when, perhaps fortuitously, no one offered him more than he had paid for it.

Desperate to recoup his investment, this dealer turned to the Internet, plugging “egg” and “Vacheron Constantin” into Google, yielding a Telegraph article about the 2011 discovery of egg’s survival, with the glaring headline “Is this £20 million nest-egg on your mantelpiece?”.

Consultations with Kieran McCarthy, director of Wartski, followed, resulting in Wartski verifying the egg’s authenticity, and acquiring it for a private collector. The final sale price was not disclosed.

The egg will be displayed in a specially designed exhibition at Wartski, at 14 Grafton Street in London, from April 14-17, after which it probably won’t be seen again for many years. It’s open to the public from 9.30 am to 5 pm, and entrance is free, but long lines are most certainly expected.

— Michelle Tay

Images courtesy Wartski