File photo: The Renaissance Faberge egg is displayed during the exhibition Treasures of Imperial Russia in Croatia's Adriatic town of Dubrovnik. It is one of 50 Imperial Easter Eggs designed by Carl Faberge for the Russian royal family.

London - When a scrap metal dealer spotted a golden egg at a bric-a-brac market, he anticipated a money-making opportunity.

He just didn’t realise quite how much he would profit on his £8 000 (about R140 000) purchase.

After failing to sell it on because would-be buyers thought it over-priced, the man decided to Google his find – and discovered he was the owner of a £20-million Faberge egg.

The expert who verified it likened the moment to “Indiana Jones finding the Lost Ark”.

The ornamental egg is the third of more than 50 Imperial Easter Eggs designed by Carl Faberge for the Russian royal family. After the 1917 revolution the eggs were seized by the Bolsheviks and most were sold to the West.

But eight of them are still missing, of which only three are believed to have survived the revolution – including this one. The egg contains a Vacheron Constantin watch and was given by Alexander III to his wife Empress Maria Feodorovna for Easter in 1887.

It was last seen in St Petersburg in March 1902 and last recorded in Moscow in 1922. It was only in 2011 that researchers discovered the Third Imperial Egg survived the revolution, and had been sold at auction in New York in 1964.

It had then found its way to the American Mid-West where a scrap metal buyer bought it at a market for £8 000. He intended to sell it on, but prospective buyers thought he was asking too much.

Then one night in 2012, the owner typed ‘Egg’ and ‘Vacheron Constantin’, a named etched on the timepiece, into Google. An article regarding the egg appeared quoting Kieran McCarthy, director of Faberge experts Wartski. Mr McCarthy said: “He flew straight over to London and came to see us. He brought pictures of the egg and I knew instantaneously that was it. I was flabbergasted – it was like being Indiana Jones and finding the Lost Ark.”

Mr McCarthy flew to the US to verify the discovery. He said: “I examined it and said, ‘You have an Imperial Faberge Easter Egg’, and he practically fainted.”

“I have been around the most marvellous discoveries in the art world, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one quite like this – finding extraordinary treasure in the middle of nowhere.”

Wartski bought the egg for a private collector. It is set to be displayed in London from April 14 to 17. - Daily Mail