Image: Fake Faberge eggs
Christophe Ena  /  AP
A close-up of some of the 354 counterfeit Faberge eggs originating from Russia that were seized by French customs agents on Nov. 15.
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updated 12/14/2010 4:35:33 PM ET 2010-12-14T21:35:33

French customs agents have uncovered a nest of 354 bejeweled eggs and declared them counterfeit copies of the famed Faberge collection.

Customs officials said Tuesday that agents seized the eggs, coming from Russia, on Nov. 15 after suspecting they may be fake — despite a stamp on the boxes showing a two-headed eagle, the symbol of the imperial crown of Russia for which the original Faberge eggs were made in the 1800s.

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"These fake eggs were in two parcels and we intervened as we checked goods coming from Russia. We were very interested because they were declared as (Faberge) eggs and we wanted to see them," said Michel Horn, head of the airport's customs services. He said that fraud was suspected as soon as they saw the eggs.

Faberge confirmed that the eggs were not the real thing.

Customs officials at Charles de Gaulle airport displayed the beautiful but fake treasure trove for reporters.

While eggs can be made in the Faberge tradition, there are only 42 original Faberge eggs in existence today, according to Joanna Azra, finance manager of Faberge Services Ltd.

The precious objects, made with jewels, enamel and precious metals, were made by jeweler Peter Carl Faberge for Emperors Alexander III and Nicolas II, who originally offered them to their wives at Easter. Each contained a precious surprise inside.

"It's an exceptional seizure," Horn said. "We don't see these objects very often. As far as we're concerned, we seize more goods like textile, clothes, toys, electronic devices and, also unfortunately, sometime medicine," Horn said.

"But as for the Faberge eggs, I have to say that we've never seen any until now," he added.

Counterfeiting is considered a growing threat, destabilizing local markets and costing jobs. Officials say that Internet commerce has boosted counterfeiting. French customs officials say that in 1994, 200,000 counterfeit articles were seized, compared to 7 million items seized in 2009.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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