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Imperial Faberge Eggs - made for the Russian Imperial Families
In my travels to Russia and the Hermitage Museum, I greatly anticipated seeing the famous Imperial Faberge Eggs of the Russian Imperial Families designed and created before the Russian Revolution. I was not disappointed when I saw these beautiful, hand-crafted enamel and jewel encrusted eggs. Dazzling with their gold and colored jewels, each egg contained a surprise in the middle - small figurines or pictures, golden egg yolks, or a tiny timepiece. Each egg was unique and a personal gift from the reigning Tzar to his Tzarina. They were large, but exquisite, and these collections of Faberge Eggs show off a brief but brilliant time in Imperial Russian history.
These jeweled eggs were made by the House of Faberge from 1885-1917. The Imperial Eggs were large in nature, but the House of Faberge also made minature eggs that were popular gifts of the Russian wealthy and nobility at Eastertide. They were worn on a neck chain singlely or in groups. The larger eggs were made for Tzars Alexander II and Nicholas II of Russia.
There were fifty Imperial Faberge Eggs made in total and forty-two have survived. Seven of the large eggs were made for the wealthy industrialist, Alexander Kelch who lived in Moscow. The eggs are all made of precious metals or hard stones decorated with enamel and gem stones. They have become the symbol of luxury and masterpieces of the jeweler's art of Russia. All the Faberge eggs were made before 1917 and the Russian (Bolshevik) Revolution that ended the Imperial Russian Monarchy. When the Revolution began, the Faberge family left Russia in 1917 and, therefore, no more eggs were made in Russia.
The House of Faberge
The House of Faberg was a jewelry firm founded in 1842 in St. Petersburg Imperial Russia by Gustav Faberge. His son, Peter Carl Faberge became head of the jewely firm until it was nationalized by the Bolsheviks in 1918. The House of Faberge is famous for designing elaborate jewel encrusted Faberge Eggs for the Russian Tzars and other jewelry pieces of high quality and intricate details.
The Faberge family can be traced back to 17th century France under the name FAVI in the village of La Bouteille in the Picardy region of northern France. Shortly after 1685, the FAVI family fled France because of religious persecution. The family kept moving eastward and changing their name under several variations of FAVI. By 1825, the family's name had evolved to Faberge and they were living in the Baltic area of Europe in what is today Estonia.
Gustav Faberge moved from Estonia to St. Petersburg, Russia in the 1830's. Here he trained as a goldsmith under Andreas Ferdinand Spiegel who specialized in making and creating gold boxes. He continued his training with Keibel, another goldsmith and jeweler to the Tzars of Russia. By 1841, Gustav Faberge had earned the title of Master Goldsmith and in 1842 he opened his own retail jewelry store, Faberge, in the basement shop of St. Petersburg fashionable shopping area.
Faberge added an accent to the last letter of the name to associate the name with the French because French was the language of the Russian court and urban nobility. France and the name Faberge became associated with luxury goods of royalty.
In 1860, Gustav Faberge retired to Dresden, Germany with his family. His son, Peter Carl Faberge continued his education in Dresden but returned to St. Petersburg in 1872 and worked under his mentor and tutor Hiskias Pendin at the Faberge jewelry firm. When Pendin died in 1882, Peter Carl Faberge became head of the House of Faberge. He then became involved with repairing and restoring objects in the Hermitage Museum.
Althought the House of Faberge exclusively made the Imperial Faberge Eggs for the Imperial Families, they made other creations other than eggs. They handmade miniature hardstone carvings of people, animals and flowers carved from semi-precious stones or hardstones and embellished with precious metals and stones. They also made photograph frames, jewelry, gold and silver boxes, desk sets and timepieces.
With the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the death of the last Imperial Russian family, Tzar Nicholas II and his family, the Faberge family left Russia and hence no more large eggs were made in Russia. Peter Carl Faberge settled in Lausanne, Switzerland, but died there in 1920 it is said of a broken heart at the death of the Imperial family and the fall of Russia to the Bolsheviks.
Since then, the Faberge trademark has been sold several times and several companies have retailed egg-related merchandise using the Faberge name. The trademark is currently owned by Faberge Limited and it also makes egg-themed jewelry.
The Russian Imperial Families
Tzar Alexander II began the tradition of giving a large Faberge egg to his Tzarina Empress Maria at Eastertide. She was so delighted by the egg gifts that Tzar Alexander appointed Peter Carl Faberge and the House of Faberge by special appointment to the Imperial Crown. Tzar Alexander commissioned another egg the following year. After that, Peter Carl Faberge was given complete freedom of design for future Imperial Easter Eggs. From this time on, their designs became more elaborate.
The eggs also became a Faberge family tradition each Eastertide. Not even the Tzar knew what form they would take. His only requirement was that each egg should contain a surprise which Peter Carl Faberge happily created and designed. Tzar Alexander II died on November 1, 1894 and the next Eastertide, his son, Nicholas II presented a Faberge egg to both his wife, Empress Alexandra Fedorovna and to his mother, Dowager Empress Maria Fedorovna.
Once the intial design for the egg had been approved by Peter Carl Faberge, the work was completed by an entire team of craftsmen: Michael Perdhin, Henrik Wigstrom and Erik August Kollin. The Imperial Easter Eggs brought great fame to the House of Faberge and the House had private clients as well as the Imperial families. The Duchess of Marlborough, the Nobels (of Nobel Prize fame), the Rothschilds (of France), and the Yusupovs were all private clients of the House of Faberge.
Of the sixty-five known large Faberge Easter Eggs made, only fifty-seven have survived to present day. Ten of the Imperial Easter Eggs are displayed at the Kremlin Armoury Museum in Moscow. The rest that Russia owns are on display at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Only one Imperial Easter Egg, the 1916 Order of St. George Egg, left Bolshevik Russia with its original owner, the Dowager Empress Maria Fedorovna.
At the end of the Russian Revolution, the House of Faberge was nationalized by he Bolsheviks and the the Faberge family fled to Switzerland. The Romanov (Tzars') palaces were ransacked and the treasures moved to Moscow and St. Petersburg. Joseph Stalin, in 1927, had many eggs sold to so he could buy foreign currency. From 1930-33, fourteen Imperial Eggs left Russia and were wold to private people and companies. The largest gathering of Faberge Eggs outside of Russia was put together by Malcom Forbes and displayed in New York City. In 2004, when Forbes died, the eggs were auctioned at Sotheby's and purchased in its entirety by Victor Vekselberg. Also, the Cleveland Museum of Art houses one Imperial Faberge Egg.
For a brief time in Russian history, the opulence of the Imperial Families was represented by the stunning jeweled Easter eggs of the House of Faberge, which was forever associated with luxury goods for the nobility all over Europe. When we see the eggs today, we can think back into the past of a shining, quaint time for the Russian Imperial Families that ended far too soon for them.