Peterburgskaya Nedelya, July 25, 2008
Scandal in the European jewelry world. Valentin Skurlov, an art critic from Saint-Petersburg, accused the insurance company Lloyd’s of causing damage to the world art. The pretext was a broken Metzger Imperial Easter Egg, a unique item by Carl Fabergé. The rarity was damaged in the process of transportation. Lloyd’s doubted the Egg’s authenticity and refused to reimburse the loss to a private collector. Mr. Skurlov and Tatyana Fabergé, a great-granddaughter of the famous jeweler, have no doubts: the Egg is genuine and insurers simply do not want to pay.
by Nikita Zeya
This story began at the end of the century before last when Alexander III presented the Egg Clock by Fabergé to a Dutch physician, Doctor Metzger. The generous gift cost 2 thousand rubles in gold. Metzger, the founder of the scientific massage theory, was treating Alexander’s spouse Maria Fyodorovna and his daughters Ksenia and Olga. The latter was seriously wounded during the wreck of the imperial train near Borki in 1888. Metzger’s hands helped the princess to recover. However, the court thoroughly concealed the massage sessions, therefore, this gift was secret.
In 1893, Carl Fabergé presented the ordered item to Alexander III and drew respective invoice. The Egg, which was
25 cm high, was made of nephrite. Its top was decorated with lilies and roses of “vermeil” gilded silver. The clock movement was hidden inside the casing.
After the doctor’s death in 1909, the traces of the imperial gift were lost. The Egg was inherited by the offspring of the great physician. It is known that Metzger had only one son, the destinies of his widow and grandchildren cannot be traced. The rarity only appeared in 1991 at Sotheby’s auction in Geneva. Michel Kamidian, a French collector, together with his anonymous partner bought it for 145 thousand Swiss francs. In 1998, Mr. Kamidian bought his partner’s share. In 2000, the collector allowed to export the Egg to the jewelry exhibition in Wilmington (the US). As it took place, the exhibition organizers insured the rarity at Lloyd’s for $2.5M.
When the item came back from abroad, it appeared that one bud and two silver petals were broken off. The insurers refused to pay. Mr. Kamidian went to court. Endless processes started. The latest one was only completed last June. The hearings took place in the London Court of Justice and caused a tempest in the Russian press. Well-known experts in Fabergé including Valentin Skurlov from Saint-Petersburg were attracted to the process. The lawyers of insurers and Wilmington exhibition organizers mainly focused on the lack of proofs that Metzger Egg was genuine. Therefore, in there opinion, the insurance contract was invalid. Eventually, Lloyd’s won.
“I saw Metzger Egg for the first time in 1992 at Tsarskoye Selo exhibition, - Valentin Skurlov, Christie’s auction expert, tells. – After that I held it in hands several times. No doubt, it is genuine.”
The expert believes the Metzger Egg now costs about $6-8M. Of course, the broken egg drastically loses value. The British Court ordered to only pay one thousand pounds to Mr. Kamidian for two broken petals.
“This verdict is unjust. The point is Kamidian was accusing the same experts that depend on almighty Lloyd’s – Geza von Hapsburg and Alexander Solodkoff… Lloyd’s was supported by a London dealer Stephen Dale, an allegedly independent expert. However, he often valuates items upon the orders of Lloyd’s. All of them had presented conclusions, which served the basis for rendering such a verdict. And it is not the point that the interests of collector Kamidian suffered. Gross damage was infringed on the art in general. It is nothing but a humiliation of the truth and Fabergé. How could they fail to provide the safety of the work of art?”
Tatyana Fyodorvna, great-granddaughter of Fabergé and a Swiss resident, has the same opinion.
“I have no doubts: the Egg is genuine and made in the workshop of my great-grandfather, - Tatyana Fabergé told the newspaper “Izvestia.” – At the exhibition in Tsarskoye Selo when the experts and the public saw it for the first time, nobody had any doubts including Irina Rodimtseva, director of the Kremlin Museum. One can hardly understand why a company, which insured the Egg, now refuses to pay.”
She believes a dangerous precedent has been created. After the Egg had been broken, it was withdrawn from the list of masterpieces. Judging by the results of the trial, the British press flatly writes: “Dr. Metzger Egg is fake.”
Meanwhile collector Michel Kamidian has brought an appeal. Another process will take place in the near future in London and he will try to prove the authenticity of Metzger Egg.
“Now the item is under arrest – Mr. Kamidian told from London over the telephone. – If we lose the appeal process, I cannot rule out addressing the European Court, because my civil rights were abused.”
He Was Receiving Unprecedented Honoraria
Doctor Iohann Georg Metzger (1838 – 1909) arrived in Russia from Holland on April 2, 1886. He treated the family of Alexander III. Before that he had been healing the members of many royal families in Europe. He was working in Wiesbaden and had the representatives of Russian aristocracy among his patents. In his memoirs, Fyodor Oom, a personal secretary of the empress Maria Fyodorovna, mentions that Doctor Metzger was receiving unprecedentedly high honoraria. It was also confirmed by the state secretary Lamsdorf.
In 1893, Metzger Egg cost 2000 rubles, about three times as cheap if compared with the eggs “Coronation” (1897), “Madonna Lily” (1899) or “Rothschild” (1902). Therefore, against the backdrop of valuating “Coronation” at $18-24M in 2004 and the actual sale of “Rothschild” for $18.5M in 2007, the auction valuation of Metzger Egg could be $6-8M in 2007.
It Corresponds to the Description in Invoice
“The authenticity of this rarity is proven by the clock movement with engraved name of the firm “Moser, Saint-Petersbourg” (in French), inventory number on the item, which allows to date the master’s work to August - September 1893, half-erased fragments of the Russian assay hallmark, and genuine case with Fabergé’s stamp and two-headed eagle. Moreover, the Egg is made of nephrite. In pre-revolutionary epoch, this stone was considered Russian and, abroad, was associated with the diplomatic presents from the Russian emperor. By its design, Metzger Egg is remarkably similar to another work by Fabergé, Imperial Easter Egg “Madonna Lily” (1899) stored in the Kremlin’s Armory Chamber. The difference is “Lily” costs more: it was made of gold and its flowers, of white stone cacholong.”
And “Similar to Imperial…”
In 1989 – 2007, 15 imperial eggs and 5 eggs equated with imperial were sold at Christie’s and Sotheby’s auctions in total. The biggest deal took place in 2004 when 9 imperial eggs and 3 eggs “similar to imperial” changed hands from the Forbes family to Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian collector. After 2000, the competition in Fabergé items market has drastically increased. The market was penetrated not only by Russian oligarchs, but sheikhs from United Arab Emirates as well. In 2002, some Arab buyer bought the “Nobel Ice” Egg and exposed it in the Doha museum.