Current & Coming  |  By Eleanor H. Gustafson

Lost imperial Easter Egg found

March 19, 2014  |  In a story that is the stuff of fairy tales, one of the missing imperial Fabergé Easter Eggs made for the Russian royal family has been found and will be on public view at Court Jewellers Wartski in Mayfair, London, in the run up to Easter. The magnificent Third Imperial Easter Egg had turned up in the hands of an unsuspecting American Midwesterner who bought it for its gold value.

Carl Fabergé, goldsmith to the czars, created the lavish imperial Easter eggs for Emperors Alexander III and Nicholas II from 1885 to 1916. Only fifty were ever made, each one unique. After the revolution the imperial eggs were seized by the Bolsheviks. Some they kept, but most were sold to the West. Two were bought by Queen Mary and are part of the British Royal Collection. Many belong to museums, oligarchs, sheikhs, and heiresses. Eight, however, are missing-of which only three are believed to have survived the revolution.

The rediscovered egg was the one given by Alexander III to his wife, Empress Maria Feodorovna, for Easter 1887. Beautifully crafted and containing a Vacheron Constantin watch inside, it sits on an elaborate bejeweled gold stand and measures 3 ¼ inches ( 8.2 cm) in height in total.

It was last seen in public more than 112 years ago, when it was shown in the exhibition of the Russian imperial family's Fabergé collection at the Von Dervis mansion in Saint Petersburg in March 1902. In the turmoil of the Russian revolution the Bolsheviks confiscated the egg and it was last recorded in Moscow in 1922 when the Soviets decided to sell it as part of their policy of turning "Treasures into Tractors." Its fate after this point was unknown and it is was feared it could have been melted for its gold and lost forever.

In 2011 Fabergé researchers realized that the egg had survived the revolution when a photograph of it was discovered in an old Parke-Bernet catalogue. Its provenance had been unknown and it had been sold on March 7, 1964, as a "Gold watch in egg form case" for $2,450 (£875 at the time). Its buyer and subsequent whereabouts were unrecorded.

Not long ago, the egg was found at a bric-a-brac market in the American Midwest by a buyer who lived a modest life and tried to make extra money buying and selling gold for its scrap metal value. But what had worked on many occasions, did not work this time. He paid $14,000, but overestimated what he thought he could sell the gold for and no one offered him more than he had paid for it. It has several scratches on it where the metal was tested for its gold content.

The owner's financial situation was dire and one evening in despair he tapped "egg" and "Vacheron Constantin" into Google, and a Telegraph article about the 2011 discovery of egg's survival popped up, quoting Kieran McCarthy, director of Wartski. Recognizing his egg, the owner couldn't sleep for days; he got on a plane to London to find McCarthy. Left speechless by the photographs the American brought to him, McCarthy was almost certain the lost egg had been found, but to confirm its identity and ensure it was not a clever fake, he traveled to the U.S. When he was shown into the kitchen of the owner's home, he was presented with the egg--which was slightly smaller than the large cupcake on the table next to it. After examination he confirmed that it was indeed the lost imperial treasure. It had traveled from the hands of an empress in the grandeur of imperial Saint Petersburg to a scrap metal dealer in modern-day America--a now very rich scrap-metal dealer.

Wartski acquired the egg for a private collector, who has generously agreed to allow it to be displayed in a specially designed exhibition at Wartski for only four days, April 14 through 17. Admission is free, but expect long lines! It probably won't be seen again for many years.

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