© 2004 the International Herald Tribune. All Rights
Russian pays $100 million for Faberge collection
Carol Vogel (NYT)
Thursday, February 5, 2004
NEW YORK Just two months before Sotheby's was to auction
the fabled Forbes family's Imperial Faberge eggs, Viktor Vekselberg, one
of a new generation of Russian industrialists, bought the entire collection
and is bringing it back to Russia.
Vekselberg, 47, the chief operating officer of TNK-BP, Russia's third
largest oil company, is the fourth-richest man in Russia, according to
None of the parties would disclose the price of the private sale, which
includes nine imperial Faberge eggs - the second largest collection after
the 10 in the Kremlin - along with some 180 other Faberge objects. But
experts familiar with the Faberge market say Vekselberg paid about $100
million for the collection, which Sotheby's had predicted would bring
at least $90 million at auction.
Vekselberg was traveling Wednesday and could not be reached for comment,
officials at Sotheby's said, but in a written statement released by the
auction house he said the purchase "represents perhaps the most significant
example of our cultural heritage outside Russia." He added that when
he heard the collection was for sale, he "knew immediately that this
was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to give back to my country one of its
most revered treasures."
Bob Burkett, a spokesman for Vekselberg, said he is planning in some way
to "make them available to the Russian people."
Asked whether this meant putting them on view at the State Hermitage Museum
in St. Petersburg or the Kremlin, he said it was too early to say.
Christopher Forbes, vice chairman of Forbes, said Wednesday that he was
thrilled with the sale. "It's fun we got to be the custodian of them
for as long as we did. But it's a new Russia, an era of free enterprise.
How nice to see them repatriated."
While Faberge experts say Vekselberg has not been a known buyer of Faberge
objects until now, he has been collecting Russian art, furniture and decorative
objects like porcelains.
William Ruprecht, Sotheby's chief executive, said Wednesday that the deal
came through a "direct proverbial knock on our door," adding
that for the last month now there have been any number of ''characters"
who would have loved to have bought the collection.
Ruprecht declined to say whether Vekselberg was a Sotheby's client. "He
keeps a low profile. But he had an intensity and focus and commitment
to repatriating these things that made this a great transaction for everyone
By not holding an auction, Sotheby's is saving hundreds of thousands of
dollars it would have spent on marketing, printing and distributing a
catalog, and security for the viewing.
Before the eggs return to Russia, however, highlights from the collection
will be on view at the York Avenue auction house's headquarters, Ruprecht
said. The collection, which has been on view in a gallery in the Forbes
Building in New York, was formed by Malcolm Forbes, the publishing magnate.
Among the treasures is the "Coronation Egg" that Czar Nicholas
II gave Empress Alexandra for Easter in 1897 to commemorate his ascension
to the throne.