A Midwest metal dealer who bought a gold item at an antiques mart that he intended to melt down for scrap was shocked to discover it was a rare Fabergé egg worth a reported $33 million.
The man paid $14,000 for the item, Kieran McCarthy, director of London antique dealer Wartski, tells JCK, and intended to sell it for a quick $15,000.
“It contained a Vacheron Constantin watch, so he figured he could sell it at slightly above the gold value,” McCarthy says. “But no one was interested, fortunately.”
In despair, the man typed “egg” and “Vacheron Constantin” into Google and came up with a Telegraph article on surviving Fabergé eggs that quoted McCarthy and showed a picture of his egg. The man got on a plane to London and presented McCarthy with a picture.
“It was like the Holy Grail walking through the front of our gallery,” he says. “I was absolutely shivering with excitement.”
“We always reserve opinions until we handle it,” McCarthy adds. “But he was so unlikely a character we figured it had to be true.”
Eventually, McCarthy traveled to the man’s home, where he saw the egg sitting in his kitchen, next to a cupcake. When he told the man what he had, he dropped to the floor, he says.
“He was conscious, but he dropped,” McCarthy says.
Egg and cupcake.
It has since been identified as one of the lost Imperial Easter eggs designed by Carl Fabergé. Of the 50 Imperial eggs, the whereabouts of 42 of them are known, but eight are missing. Five of them are believed to have been destroyed, but the other three escaped Russia. This was among those three.
The egg’s pedestal includes colored gold garlands suspended from cabochon blue sapphires, topped with rose diamond-set bows. Inside is a lady’s watch with a white enamel dial and diamond-set gold hands by Vacheron Constantin. It is in “remarkably good condition,” McCarthy says, though it is missing a few gemstones.
Russian emperor Alexander III gave the egg to Empress Maria Feodorovna on Easter in 1887, and it was seized by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution. How it ended up in a Midwest antique mart remains a mystery.
“The Bolsheviks had a policy of selling treasure,” he says. “It’s more than likely that Armand Hammer, who was one of the grand American collectors and a Russian sympathizer, bought it, and somewhere along the line it lost its provenance and just traveled through the United States and arrived at a flea market.”
That it survived is incredibly lucky, McCarthy notes, considering it was “dancing on the edge of the melting pot.”
The egg has been reported to have been sold to $33 million to a private collector, but McCarthy says he can neither “confirm or deny” that number. And while the finder wishes to remain anonymous, he received a “life-changing amount of money,” McCarthy says.
The item’s buyer is letting the item be displayed at Wartski from April 14 to 17. This is the first time it’s been shown in public in 112 years, and McCarthy notes it might be another 112 years before it’s displayed again.
After the story hit the press, there was a “tidal wave of interest,” McCarthy says.
“It is just a magical story,” he says. “It is such a bizarre set of circumstances.”
Asked for any lessons from this, McCarthy says, “Always keep your eyes open. There are always treasures out there to discover.”