Kieran McCarthy, a Fabergé specialist and director at fine art dealers Wartski in London, was on holidays in his native west Kerry when the delicate talks over the golden egg, made on commission for Tsar Alexander III of Russia, were concluded.
“It was a phone call I was glad to get — regardless of the holidays,” said Kieran. “I was walking through a field and the Atlantic was crashing in. There was a certain fitting drama to the location.”
The story is nothing if not dramatic. The egg, an 8.9cm marvel given by Alexander III to his empress Marie Feodorovna for Easter in 1887, had been considered lost since disappearing from St Petersburg in the turmoil of the Russian Revolution.
But then a scrap dealer from the US midwest walked in to Wartski with photographs of the piece which he had bought for about €9,500 from an antiques fair, knowing its gold and jewels were valuable but only belatedly discovering he had an extraordinary treasure on his hands.
That treasure is thought to be worth about €24m, although Kieran has been discreet about its resale price and about the super-wealthy art collector on whose behalf he brokered the deal.
“I can’t say what country he’s from, but then he’s one of those international individuals who are so wealthy, they become stateless. He’s a Learjet citizen,” Kieran joked.
He admitted to being a little jealous of his client — not of his wealth but of the chance to see the imperial egg whenever he chooses. “It was such a privilege to see it and hold it and examine it. I had heard stories of legendary finds in the art world before but this is the holy grail. It’s supreme.
“It’s a little sad to think that now it’s gone to a private collection, it could well disappear for another hundred years — certainly I’m unlikely to see it again in my lifetime.”
Before it does go behind closed doors, the new owner is allowing Wartski to put it on display for four days next month. “It’s very benevolent of him and it inspires hope,” said Kieran, who studied philosophy at Leeds University before joining Wartski, where he has worked for 20 years.
“We believe there are still two Fabergé eggs out there that survived the turmoil of the revolution but have not yet surfaced. So you never know. The meritocracy of the art world is that anyone can find a treasure.”