Faberge Collector Invests 90 Million Euros More

The man who bought the world’s most expensive egg is defying setbacks by thinking ever bigger. Russian billionaire Alexander Ivanov, who paid $17.7 million for a Faberge egg in 2007, said he has spent 90 million euros ($113 million) more in the last year alone to add 100 items to a 3,000-strong collection worth $2 billion.

Ivanov, 46, wanted to display the collection of works by the Russian tsarist-era jeweler in Moscow until he faced a battle with bureaucracy and high costs of building. He switched to the western German resort of Baden Baden and got into a legal fight with Faberge Ltd. over the name “Faberge Museum.”

Now he is developing the German site and plans another in Croatia. “We’re increasing the collection with new acquisitions and need more space,” Ivanov said in an interview. “We’re a business. We’re creating a business model where museums can be profitable.”

Faberge was founded in St. Petersburg in 1842 and was an official supplier to the Russian Imperial court from 1885 to 1917. The company’s artworks became popular in the 1960s with Western collectors, led by Malcolm Forbes. Prices rose to records as Russians such as Ivanov started investing in status-symbol artworks that represent their country’s heritage.

Ivanov’s latest purchases include a 27-inch-high silver clock given to Russian Emperor Alexander III and his wife by relatives in 1891 for their 25th wedding anniversary. He wouldn’t say how much he paid for it. He has also continued snapping up Faberge semiprecious stone figurines and gold jewelry. His biggest purchase was the 1902 Faberge egg made as an engagement gift to Baron Edouard de Rothschild. Ivanov bought it at Christie’s International in London on Nov. 28, 2007, for £9 million ($13 million) and says it’s Faberge’s “finest ever.” The gold and pink enamel egg has a clock and a diamond-set cockerel that pops up every hour and flaps its wings.

Ivanov settled on the spa town of Baden Baden, with a population of 55,000, because it gets 8 million visitors a year and historically has been popular with Russians. In the 19th century, prominent visitors included writer Fyodor Dostoevsky and members of the Russian royal family.

Ivanov, a Moscow State University law graduate, made his first $1 million importing computers and began collecting Faberge in the late 1980s.

His museum in Germany opened in May 2009 and displays more than 600 items. Most are Faberge, but there are items by other jewelers, such as Cartier. A new wing will add more than 600 meters of exhibition space for European old master paintings and pre-Columbian jewelry from Peru. More than 2,000 square meters are set aside for vintage cars.

The second branch will be in Dubrovnik. “Dubrovnik is a beautiful medieval city with about 5 million visitors a year,” said the soft-spoken and well-built Ivanov, dressed in a suit with no tie. “It has no world-class museum; we want to change that. We see Dubrovnik as a great opportunity.”

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