Assets: Eggs — Faberge to Pysanky — Sizzle

Decorated eggs are on a roll, with a jewel-encrusted Faberge selling for a record $9.5 million last year, and a prolific burst of new masterpieces using materials as humble as dyes, wax and beads.

As far back as 1300 B.C., eggs have been exchanged in Europe as a symbol of life and rebirth in spring, first in pagan rituals and then during Easter.

Through the years, decorations on eggs have become more elaborate — growing from ancient symbols such as stars, dots, circles, wheat and deer in the popular Ukrainian folk style called pysanky, to the eye-popping gemstones that jeweler Peter Carl Faberge used in his commissions for the Russian imperial family.

Since an egg in itself is worth little — even counting the jewels and enamel shells that Faberge used — it is the artist’s vision that is prized on the elliptical canvas laid by a chicken, ostrich, emu, rhea, goose, duck, finch, cockatoo, parakeet, peacock, or even chameleon.

“If you give someone an egg with a hen, a symbol of fertility, you’re wishing them to start a family. Plants, flowers are to wish a good harvest,” said Dennis Kowaleski, who teaches workshops on pysanky (http://www.nutmegartists.com).

“It’s something everybody can do. Everyone can make a good egg, with time,” said the artist, who has a collection of more than 700 eggs and sells his creations for $10 to $500 apiece.

Egg decorating has risen in status to the point where artists have been invited to create designs for the White House’s annual Easter Egg Roll and Hunt.

Luba Perchyshyn, who owns the Ukrainian Gift Shop (http://www.ukrainiangiftshop.com) in St. Anthony Village, a suburb of Minneapolis, was commissioned to create an egg Christmas ornament for the White House last year. Perchyshyn, 79, “wrote” layer after layer of dyes and wax on an ostrich egg to fashion the pysanky masterpiece that she values at $300, featuring a loon, the Minnesota state bird.

“I believe their value will increase over time,” Kowalesky said of Ukrainian-style pysanky eggs. “Most people aren’t willing to give them up, though. It’s hard to appraise them. They’re not an ‘Antiques Roadshow’ type of thing,” he said, referring to the popular appraisal program on the Public Broadcasting System.

Values have indeed soared for Faberge eggs over the past 50 years. The 57 eggs crafted by the French jeweler from 1898 to 1918 mostly for Czar Alexander III and his son, Nicholas II — of which eight have yet to resurface — have always been dazzling, with their shells of enamel, gold, rubies, diamonds and other precious jewels that encased surprises such as picture frames, ships, carriages and mechanical devices.

Faberge’s 1913 Winter Egg that sold for a record $9.6 million in April 2002 at Christie’s was worth a 24,600 rubles ($25,000) when it was made for Czar Nicholas II as an Easter gift to his mother. In 1949 the egg, consisting of two blocks of rock crystal, some platinum and about 3,000 minute rose-cut diamonds, sold for only $4,760. But in 1994 an anonymous American businessman paid a record $5.5 million for it.

On Friday, Faberge’s 1892 Diamond Trellis Egg, worth an estimated $2 million to $3 million, is up for auction for the first time since 1960, when it sold in London for 2.4 million pounds ($3.7 million). However, the bowenite base with sculptural figures holding up the egg has since been lost, and a mechanical elephant hidden inside the pale green shell disappeared sometime after the Bolshevik Revolution.

“The trend in the art market is for the most rare examples in each field to appreciate much more rapidly than the middle range,” said Gerard Hill, director of Russian works of art at Sotheby’s (http://www.sothebys.com).

Faberge’s genius has inspired creations that are finding buyers all over the world.

Unilever Corp. UNc.AS formed the Faberge Collectors Society three years ago — with Tatiana Faberge, a great-granddaughter of Carl Peter as spokeswoman — to create replicas of the Russian imperial eggs as well as new designs (http://www.someonespecial.com/cgi-bin/someone/fabergeclub.html ).

Prices range from $85 for a simple design to $50,000 for a replica of the 1903 Moscow Kremlin Egg, made of malachite, rising above a castle of mother-of-pearl, jade, onyx, lapis lazuli, coral and red agate. When opened the egg reveals a hand-carved black onyx Russian bear that rotates as the egg plays “Swan Lake” by Tchaikovsky.

The company hopes that the limited editions, generally numbering 500 to 1,000, will appreciate over time, though they are still available at the recommended retail price.

In a not-for-profit mode, Kelly Erdos (http://home.earthlink.net/~akerdos) creates breathtaking designs to fund a zoo that she runs with her husband in Marcellus, Michigan, two hours east of Detroit.

In just two years, Erdos has grown from novice to award-winning designer, using eggs from her farm to create Faberge-inspired works that incorporate lids, doors, drawers and etchings, lined with silk, painted, beaded, featuring even a miniature golf course. Prices range from $25 to $2,500 for a Cinderella coach design with real diamonds. Each comes with a certificate of authenticity.

“I can never look at an eggshell the same way as before,” Erdos said, who is hoping to add swans to her zoo. “I don’t walk on eggshells. I live in them. I’m having so much fun.”

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Published in: on April 15, 2003 at 3:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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