The richest man in Russia, Viktor Vekselberg, did a great service to his country in 2004 when he bought nine Faberge eggs – the largest collection of Faberge Imperial Easter Eggs – for over $100 million. The collection had belonged to the late business tycoon Malcolm Forbes.
Traditionally made from gold, diamonds and platinum, Vekselberg said that the collection “represents perhaps the most significant example of our cultural heritage outside Russia…This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to give back to my country one of its most revered treasures.”
Since the fall of imperial Russia, the country’s magnificent collection of Faberges was scattered across the globe. Several are now the property of European royal families and U.S. speculators. These rare treasures are desperately sought after; in 2007 Christie’s sold a single Fabergé egg (the Rothschild) for over $16 million.
Vekselberg’s collection of Fabergés toured the world on loan to different exhibitions but is now housed in the Fabergé Museum in St. Petersburg. Located in the Shuvalov Palace, Vekselberg has spent over $30 million restoring the museum to its original 18th century grandeur. Dedicated to the work of Carl Fabergé, the nine Fabergé Imperial Easter Eggs form the heart of the museum’s grand masterpieces. “We really wanted to create a museum associated with the history of Russia in the 18th to early 20th centuries. One of the symbols of this period – Carl Fabergé, rose to the top of artistic jewellery craftsmanship,” said Vekselberg.
Among the collection of Faberges acquired by Vekselberg is the Coronation Egg, presented by Tsar Nicholas II to his wife at Easter in 1897. Tsar Nicholas’ father, Tsar Alexander III, commissioned the first egg from Carl Fabergé in 1885 as an Easter gift to his wife. The tradition continued for almost 30 years during which time 50 exquisite eggs were crafted for the Romanov royal family. Other rarities include the Hen Egg, the Rosebud Egg, the Lilies-of-the-Valley Egg and the Order of St. George Egg.
During imperial Russia’s apogee, the House of Faberge gained international renown, employing over 100 craftsmen to create treasures of unrivalled splendour. Revolution and upheaval saw the dissipation of this precious collection which is why the opening of the Faberge Museum represents a momentous landmark in Russia’s history.
Carl Fabergé’s rare jewels are also closely associated with the darkest aspects of Russia’s history. When Tsar Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra were executed with their young children in 1918, it is claimed that the bullets ricocheted off the bodies of the young princesses as the priceless treasures had been woven into their bodices to prevent theft. The Bolshevik firing squad consequently used bayonets to kill the Romanovs, ending 300 years of imperial rule. The battered bodies of the Romanovs went missing for several decades and their hopelessly guarded jewels lost to obscurity.
Thanks to Vekselberg, the eggs have come full circle which is why their display in St. Petersburg is attracting global interest. Not only are these eggs unique works of art, they also hold a deep historical significance for Russia as the mute witnesses of the rise and fall of the Russian monarchy.
Through his cultural and historical foundation, The Link of Times, Vekselberg has spent the last decade painstakingly acquiring and collating the treasures that rightfully belong to Russia including Faberge’s most exquisite novelties, among them a bouquet of glittering pansies in a vase made of rock crystal seemingly filled with water.
An engineering graduate, Viktor Felixovich Vekselberg worked for years in Soviet state laboratories before founding an investment company, Renova, in 1993. He later acquired a controlling interest in Tyumen Oil (TNK) and was pivotal in negotiating its deal with BP to form the joint venture TNK-BP.
According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index ’14, the sale of TNK-BP to Rosneft for $28 billion augmented Vekselberg’s fortune by $1.5 billion, increasing his net worth to $18 billion and ranking him as the fortieth richest person in the world.
Symbolic of new life and fresh beginnings, Easter eggs form an integral part of all Easter and springtime celebrations. Interestingly, Carl Fabergé’s eponymous eggs are enjoying a revival of their own, showcased for the first time in their homeland, glittering remnants of old world Russia.