November 29, 2007 / 11:59 AM / 11 years ago

Russian tycoon says Faberge egg a bargain

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian businessman with a passion for Tsarist treasures said on Thursday he was behind the record purchase of a Faberge egg in London for nine million pounds, which he called inexpensive.

The Rothschild Faberge egg is displayed at Christie's auction house in London, October 4, 2007. REUTERS/Kieran Doherty/Files

Alexander Ivanov, a businessman who helped found Russia’s first private museum, bid in person at the tense Christie’s auction in London on Wednesday for the egg, originally made for the Rothschild family.

Ivanov, who says collecting treasures is a hobby, set a record with his purchase, and when the hammer fell the audience at Christie’s burst into applause.

“We bought this unique egg to add to our collection,” Ivanov told Reuters by telephone from London. “It is simply the best and most expensive Faberge egg. We are going to bring it back to Russia.”

“This egg was acquired cheaply in my opinion — the price of this egg is nothing compared to its significance and superior quality. It is an amazing and unique piece of work.”

Faberge’s eggs have become a symbol of opulence since the jeweller was commissioned in 1885 by Tsar Alexander III of Russia to create one as a gift for his wife Maria.

The previously undocumented egg sold at Christie’s is translucent pink and had never been seen in public before the sale was announced.

Signed and dated by Carl Faberge in 1902, the egg features a clock with a diamond-set cockerel that pops up hourly, flaps its wings, nods its head, opens and shuts its beak and then crows.

The egg was made by Faberge’s master craftsman Michael Perchin and is one of only three known pieces featuring both a clock and an automaton.

“We bought the egg with our own money and there will soon be an exhibition in Moscow,” Ivanov said. “So there is not even a hint of any sort of resale here.”

“I simply have a passion for collecting — I suppose it’s more a hobby than a business,” he added.

RUSSIAN OPULENCE

Russians, flush with cash after the longest economic boom for a generation, now frequently make headlines at art auctions in London and New York by buying up Russian masterpieces.

Bidding for Russian treasures also sits well with President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin, which is eager to see prized objects returned after the country’s tumultuous 20th Century.

Metals tycoon Viktor Vekselberg bought a collection of Imperial Faberge Easter Eggs for $90 million (43.6 million pounds) from the Forbes family in 2004. The eggs were brought back to Moscow and put on exhibition in the Kremlin.

Most Faberge eggs were made for the Tsar and his family, but a few were commissioned by wealthy collectors.

The Rothschild egg, which will go on show at the privately held Russian National Museum, was an engagement present given to Edouard de Rothschild’s future wife Germaine.

“Money is of no matter for a piece of art this important,” Ivanov said. The Russian National Museum has a large collection of Faberge pieces including two imperial eggs.

Tsar Alexander 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.

Many of the eggs were spirited abroad after the revolution as wealthy Russians fled to Europe. Now they are finding their way back.

Additional reporting by Mike Collett-White in London, editing by Paul Casciato

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