Faberge Collector Invests
90 Million Euros More

Alexander Ivanov's Faberge Museum in Baden-Baden, Germany

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 the Faberge egg in 2007, says he has spent 90 million euros ($107.8 million) more in the last year alone to add 100 items to a 3,000-strong collection worth $2 billion.

Ivanov, 46, first wanted to display the collection by the Russian czarist-era jeweler in Moscow until he faced a battle with bureaucracy and high building costs. He switched the display 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 says 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 it 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. He has also continued snapping up Faberge semi-precious stone figurines and gold jewelry.

Rothschild Egg

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 pounds ($18.5 million at the time), 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 has 8 million visitors a year and historically has been popular with Russians. In the 19th century, prominent visitors included writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky and members of the Russian royal family.

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

Cartier, Cars

His Germany museum opened in May 2009 and displays more than 600 items. Most are Faberge, and 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 (21,527 square feet) 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,” says 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.”

Ivanov’s collection is called the Russian National Museum. While it doesn’t have its own space (the Baden Baden museum is part of the Russian National Museum; it displays part of that collection), selected items have been shown at exhibitions in Russia and abroad, and some can be seen at http://www.rnm.ru.

In its first 12 months, the Faberge Museum in Baden Baden made a profit of about 500,000 euros, compared with an expected profit of 1 million euros to 1.5 million euros, says Ivanov. He had expected a million visitors a year at 10 euros a head, he says.

Court Case

In April 2009, Faberge Ltd. started court action.

“‘Faberge Museum’ is a registered European trademark which belongs to Faberge Ltd.,” Sean Gilbertson, a Faberge Ltd. board member, said in an e-mailed statement.

“Our first year was difficult due to the Faberge trademark court case, which consumed much energy and time,” says Ivanov. “At first we couldn’t use the Faberge name, which meant no advertising or even a sign on the door.” After a January court hearing, Baden Baden is plastered with posters advertising the Faberge Museum.

Faberge Ltd. said it plans to pursue its case, though it hopes to reach an amicable agreement.

“From the outset,” said Gilbertson, “we’ve been willing to make a fair and reasonable deal recognizing that the trademark belongs to us but that allows the museum to continue their business, including duly permitted use of the Faberge name.”

“If a deal cannot be reached we will not stand idly by and watch a registered European trademark be infringed,” said Gilbertson. “We will not simply forget the matter.”

Faberge Museum GmbH, Sophienstrasse 30, 76530 Baden Baden, Germany. Information: +49-722-1970-8900; http://www.fabergemuseum.de

Source: Bloomberg News
by John Varoli
11 July, 2010