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Faberge eggs to return to Russia

© BBC MMIV, 2004/02/05 20:47:34 GMT

A Russian millionaire has bought the world's second-largest collection of Faberge eggs which was scheduled to be auctioned by Sotheby's in April.

Oil and gas industrialist Victor Vekselberg bought the entire Forbes collection of nine eggs and other items, valued at about $90m.

He hopes to take the tsarist treasures to post-Communist Russia by Easter.

Only the Kremlin has more eggs - 10 - out of the 50 created by jeweller Carl Faberge for Russia's imperial family.

Confirming that Sotheby's had negotiated the sale for an undisclosed sum, a spokeswoman for the auction house in New York said it had "happened very quickly" but had been "a very serious offer that the Forbes family accepted".

Sellers 'delighted'

The intricately designed eggs, about 13cm (5in) tall and made of precious metals and gems, include the Coronation Egg, which features the coach that Empress Alexandra rode into Moscow in 1897.

The religious, spiritual and emotional content captured by these Faberge eggs touches upon the soul of the Russian people - Victor Vekselberg

The Forbes publishing family said it was "delighted that the advent of a new era in Russia [had] made possible the return of these extraordinary objects".

Mr Vekselberg said the Forbes collection represented "perhaps the most significant example of our cultural heritage outside Russia".

He told the BBC that the eggs would be brought back from the US by April.

He described them as priceless and said he was overjoyed to be returning such a significant collection to Russia.

"The religious, spiritual and emotional content captured by these Faberge eggs touches upon the soul of the Russian people," he said.

It was not immediately clear what the industrialist, who is chairman of the board of directors of investment and business development company Renova, planned to do with the collection.

However, Russia's most powerful museums have begun staking their claims to them.

Abramovich contrast

The BBC's Sarah Rainsford in Moscow says politicians and public have praised Mr Vekselberg for his patriotism.

While denying he was deliberately trying to curry favour, he said nonetheless that he hoped the "right people" would approve.

His purchase is in marked contrast to Roman Abramovich's buy-up of English football club Chelsea, which dismayed many Russians keen to revive the cash-strapped domestic game.

The eggs, created for the last two Russian emperors, Alexander III and Nicholas II, were dispersed around the world after the 1917 Revolution, many of them sold off by the Bolsheviks.

The Forbes eggs and the best of the other 180 Faberge pieces in the collection are due to be exhibited at Sotheby's in New York before they are taken to Russia.