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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 June, 2005, 23:34 GMT 00:34 UK
Faberge descendants keep up tradition
By Bill Wilson
BBC News business reporter

The Faberge family's jewellery-making firm, which made its name by crafting gold and diamond eggs for the Russian tsars, has found itself back in the news recently.

Jimmy Johnstone egg designed by Sarah Faberge
The Jimmy Johnstone eggs were 10,000 each

Not only was a plot to steal one of the famous eggs at the centre of recent Hollywood film Ocean's Twelve, but a new UK item has also attracted attention.

Family descendant Sarah Faberge has created a limited number of new eggs in aid of former Celtic football player Jimmy Johnstone, who is suffering from motor neurone disease.

"I am not a big football fan, but wanted to do something to help," Ms Faberge told BBC News. "He was inspirational as a footballer and now he is inspiring people as he battles his illness. People admire him for different reasons now."

The ex-Scottish international winger is being immortalised in 19 eggs priced at 10,000 each, with Mr Johnstone getting the proceeds of the sales. All the eggs have been snapped up.

Investment objects

Limited editions are central to the family firm's philosophy. They produce between five and 15 designs a year, each in small numbers.

"We are limited in how many we produce each year by how many our craftsmen can make," says company spokesman Frankie Birkenstein.

The 500 St Vladimir eggs created in 1988 to commemorate 1000 years of the Russian orthodox church
The Russian orthodox church eggs have risen sharply in value

A consequence of the limited runs, whether intentional or not, is that the eggs fetch a great deal of money, both when new and in the second-hand market.

"There is growing interest in what we produce from collectors and investors. There is also a waiting list of people wanting to buy items second-hand when they become available," says Ms Birkenstein.

"People buy our eggs for a number of reasons, including investment reasons."

The original pre-Bolshevik revolution eggs sell for millions of pounds, and even later creations have seen their value rise sharply.

The 500 St Vladimir eggs created in 1988 to commemorate 1000 years of the Russian orthodox church cost 1,500 at the time. They are now selling for 12,000.

And this is a market where investors can enter at relatively low levels. Most of what the jeweller makes cost between 2,000 and 10,000, though some items can be had for just 350, while commissioned pieces can cost up to 1m.

There have been a number of different enamel, diamond, gold and silver eggs, from the centenary of the Olympics to the 200th anniversary of the White House.

Legal history

But take note; although they are made by members of the Faberge family, these are not, strictly speaking, Faberge eggs.

Faberge egg showing the tsar's yacht
Original Faberge eggs can fetch millions

The eggs currently produced are part of the St Petersburg Collection, which Theo Faberge set up with his daughter Sarah as recently as 1985, four years after his engineering firm accepted its first egg commission.

The creation of the collection marked the revival of the business once run by Theo Faberge's grandfather, Carl Faberge, who left the country in 1917 when its Russian parent company was taken over by a revolutionary committee.

During the upheaval that followed, the name Faberge Inc was registered in the US in the 1930s by a firm making toiletries, and has since been acquired by Unilever.

Legal action by Faberge family members to regain the rights to use the name for commercial purposes has failed.

The Jimmy Johnstone eggs are made from silver, enamel, yellow and black gold and feature the medals of the footballer's major achievements, the UEFA European Cup, the Scottish league championship, the Scottish Cup and Scottish League Cup. Permission was given by the organisers of these competitions to strike the new medals from the original dies.

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