A scrap metal dealer who bought a decorative egg at a flea market in the American midwest for US$14,000 has discovered it is actually worth millions.
He had hoped to make a small profit by reselling the egg for its gold content. But the jewel encrusted work has now been confirmed as one of the eight missing Faberge imperial eggs.
London-based Kieran McCarthy of Wartski, which specialises in Russian artefacts, said the scrap metal dealer began to suspect he was holding a rare piece after seeing an article about an imperial Faberge Easter egg made for Russian royalty. The dealer contacted McCarthy, who verified the egg as genuine and negotiated its sale to a collector.
"The second I saw it, my spine was shivering," said McCarthy, calling the piece a "holy grail" for collectors.
Both the buyer and seller want to remain anonymous, and McCarthy did not disclose the sale price. But a lesser, non-imperial Faberge egg sold at Christie's for US$18.5 million in 2007.
The magnificently jewelled Faberge eggs were created by Peter Carl Faberge, most famously as Easter gifts shared between the Russian tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II and their wives.
Independent Faberge expert Geza von Habsburg said the egg was "absolutely genuine" and matched the one-line description found in records kept by Russia's Imperial Cabinet.
The egg, containing a Vacheron Constantin watch, sits on a jewelled gold stand and was given by Alexander III to his Empress Maria Feodorovna in 1887.
Only 50 of the imperial eggs were made for the royal family, and eight remained missing before the latest find, though only three of those are known to have survived the Russian revolution.
"I think it's pretty exciting," said Tatiana Zherebkina, spokeswoman for Faberge. "The experts seem to agree it's authentic."
It will go on display at Wartski's London showroom on April 14, the first time it will have been seen in public for 112 years.