The inside story of Antiques Roadshow's £1 million find
A small regimental emblem causes a storm on this week’s Antiques Roadshow, one of the most valuable items ever featured
An incredible find is featured in Antiques Roadshow this Sunday 15th April: a 13.3cm high Fabergé flower.
It is only the third item to receive such a valuation in Antiques Roadshow history. The gold twig rests in a rock crystal vase carved to look like water, and the vase is engraved "QOWH South Africa 1900".
Find out more about the remarkable piece below.
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Honorary Colonel, The Royal Yeomanry B Squadron
We had an inkling that it was something very valuable, but when [Antiques Roadshow jewellery expert] Geoffrey Munn said the words, “I think it’s probably a million plus” it completely bowled me over.
People had said to me that it might be worth £30,000, or maybe even £50,000, but because of the way Fabergé has risen in price as the result of interest from Russia we suspected it might be more, which a jeweller confirmed to us when we took it in for a minor repair.
All I remember from the day was that a crowd had built up and there was a huge intake of breath in unison all around me. It was simply staggering. I’m not often lost for words but I was a bit overwhelmed.
The piece is hugely symbolic and tied up with the history of the regiment: the Worcestershire Yeomanry, also known as the Queen’s Own Worcestershire Hussars, which was formed in 1794.
When the Regiment departed for war in South Africa in 1900, Lady Dudley, the wife of the second in command, presented each man with a silk flower representing a pear blossom (the emblem on the regimental badge) to wear in their helmets to remind them of home.
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I like to think her gift was intended to forever remind them of the first time they had been called overseas.
Before the war the Yeomanry existed only to protect the homeland. Lady Dudley later commissioned this piece from Fabergé and it has stayed with the regiment ever since. Now at every function or dinner it sits on the table in front of the Commanding Officer.
Things have whizzed over it in the past, like the odd bread roll, and one of the jade leaves has a bit of a chip, but it’s there to be used, to be seen. It’s fairly insignificant among the huge pieces of silver that make up the other artefacts of the regiment, but it’s the single piece people search out.
It’s like an old photograph, and very special to us because of what it stands for. We tell no one where it’s kept but whenever it’s required, the charitable trust whose property it is produces it.
And it’s no use anyone asking, we will never say where it is. It’s not under my bed, by the way!
It comes in a beautiful little box made out of holly wood and that box, like a set of Russian dolls, goes into another box and then the bigger box goes into another, even bigger box. They are all locked as they go.
A few people have wondered why we don’t sell it. But what would we do with the money? We couldn’t give it to the Army because it’s in trust. And it’s our history. It makes one recall the sacrifices people made.
There’s a certain security and familiarity in objects that have been around for over 100 years. Time moves on but things like this don’t change. It’s like an anchor for new squadrons.
Antiques Roadshow’s jewellery expert
This is without a shadow of a doubt the most extraordinary discovery of my career on the Roadshow. A towering masterpiece from probably the most famous jeweller who’s ever lived.
I must use the word “fame” carefully, I don’t want to knock out the other great geniuses of goldsmithery, but Fabergé really is a byword for inspiration, craftsmanship and poetic beauty.
A million pounds is a spectacular sum, even in this crazy world, so the revelation, when the crowd gasps, is a real one. I had known about the piece – it’s one of the masterpieces of Fabergé – but I had absolutely no idea it was coming to the Roadshow. I was as startled as anyone to see it there.
The person in the queue is almost always completely unknown to me, as is what they are carrying. So for them to approach me like that with the Rembrandt of all the Fabergés was a hugely exciting moment.
The main thing is to try to hold your composure. It was hotter than Hades on that day. I had taken off a good few bits of my clothing, right down to the linen shirt. One would’ve liked to dress up a bit more perhaps for this flower, but I wasn’t ready for it!
I remember saying, “Look, all the flowers around us are wilting, but you’ve brought me one that never fades.” That’s part of the poetry these Fabergé pieces have, all the qualities of flowers but everlasting. Fabergé has waved an alchemist’s wand over the evanescent beauty of the spring blossoms, turning them into everlasting gold. And jade and diamond.
He’s caught the moment of spring beauty, the impermanence of the natural world, and made it permanent.
It’s also a hugely significant discovery for the public. The Roadshow allows the viewer to see things that perhaps they couldn’t see under other circumstances. And now these things can be scrutinised – with high-definition cameras, magnifying lenses – it’s second best to actually handling it. It’s the miracle of our time.
Television is the great idol’s eye of civilisation. Outside of the Royal Collection, this is probably one of the most ambitious of all the Fabergé flower studies; more complicated, larger and more poetic than most. A substantial and rare thing in the Fabergé world. There were very few made. They were the smallest output from Fabergé in that area and because of their three-dimensional qualities, they were the rarest to survive – those that were made were very often damaged. That makes this one even more exceptional.
I don’t expect to see another object of its calibre in my Roadshow career ever again.
Antiques Roadshow is on Sunday 15th April at 8.00pm on BBC1