1. They Started Out As Expensive Easter Eggs
In 1885, Czar Alexander III commissioned Peter Carl Fabergé to craft an exquisite Easter egg for his wife, Empress Maria Fedorovna. The gift was a hit, and Fabergé went on to produce 50 Easter eggs, each of which contained a surprise inside, over more than two decades. These became known as the Imperial Easter Eggs.
The Russian Revolution of 1917 didn't bode well for lavish jewelry makers. The Bolsheviks nationalized the House of Fabergé, prompting Peter Carl and his family to make their way to Switzerland. Surprisingly, 42 of the 50 original Imperial Easter Eggs managed to survive these tumultuous times and remain intact to this day.
While Lenin tried to preserve these cultural artifacts, Joseph Stalin saw an easy way to make a quick (Western) buck. He sold off some, and, according to this article from the Guardian, "American oil billionaire Armand Hammer was paid by Stalin for his services as a Soviet agent in Fabergé eggs, which he sold on to collectors such as King Farouk and Malcolm Forbes."
What better way to show the world that you're filthy rich than by amassing the largest private collection of Imperial Easter Eggs? That's what the Forbes family did before auctioning them off in 2004. The collection of nine eggs included the Coronation Egg, a piece dating to 1897 that was estimated to be worth more than $20 million. Russian oil tycoon Victor Vekselberg won the auction for an undisclosed sum.
Octopussy, the 13th Bond film, features the always-crafty 007 swapping out a real Fabergé with a fake that's equipped with surveillance equipment. Bad dude Kamal Khan ends up blowing like a half a billion pounds on the thing. According to IMDB, the egg used in the film was the actual, very valuable Coronation Egg, which, as noted above, was once owned by the Forbes family. The egg went on to make an appearance in Ocean's Twelve.
For $1,400, you can buy a bottle of wheat vodka distilled 15 times that's hidden in an egg "created after the style of Fabergé." The egg -- and the accompanying crystal shot glasses -- are adorned with 24-karat gold. Pat Brophy, spirit specialist at Illinois-based Binny's Beverage Depot, one of the few U.S. locations that has these things, says they manage to sell a few each year.
On the Simpsons, jazz legend Bleeding Gums Murphy told Lisa Simpson that he blew his fortune from the hit album Sax on the Beach on his Fabergé egg addiction. He confessed that he spent $1,500 a day fueling the habit. If that doesn't impress the Palm Beach art crowd, what will?
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