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The Concise History of Fabergé Eggs
The Ultimate Egg
Of all the Easter Eggs ever made and gifted, there is a particular collection that exists as a testament of craftsmanship and genius. They were gifted as an expression of love and adulation, represent a continued legacy from father to son. They illustrate their loves, royal lives and aspects of the gift givers life story. They were found and lost, pillaged and protected. They represent mystery and mayhem, terror and tragedy. They are a magnificent representation of decadence and opulence, yet the ultimate collaborative artistry.
They are the brainchild of a man who is perhaps the best known jeweller in the world, Peter Karl Fabergé .
The Genius of Fabergé
Peter Carl Fabergé was born into a Jewellers family and decided to join the family business after a series of apprenticeships in various popular jewellery houses all over Europe. His father Gustave owned a small jewellery shop in St Petersburg.
Carl was only 24 when he took over the family business and he was ably assisted by his brother Agathon. Surrounded by mediocrity and duplication, Carl wanted to be unique. He was ambitious and innovative. He knew that in a world where jewellery was merely judged by the number of carats, he wanted to inject artistry and invention. His brother was an excellent designer and adviser to Karl’s ambitious plans.
He advertised his business as ‘no two pieces alike’ and stuck by this motto. Every piece of jewellery made by the House of Faberge was considered a one off. As a sheer piece of marketing genius, he also advertised that any piece unsold at the end of the year of manufacture will be destroyed!
Without the benefit of electronic media like TV or internet to advertise his wares, he soon gained a reputation through the word of mouth among the bourgeois of Russian society. But Karl set his sights higher, because he wanted to be jeweller to the Tsar himself.
After offering to work for the Hermitage where the Russian royal collection resided, he made himself busy appraising and repairing pieces for free. He was invited to participate in the pan- Russian Exhibition, where he received plenty of press coverage for his innovative work. More importantly his pieces caught the eye of the Tsar Alexander III and the Tsarina Maria Fyodorovna.
It wasn’t long before he was appointed ‘ supplier to the Court of his Imperial Majesty’!
St Petersburg, Russia - where it all began
The year was 1885 and Tsar wanted to give something special for his wife as a present for Easter.
An Imperial Easter Egg like none before.
The Imperial Eggs
The act of giving Eggs in spring was a pagan tradition adopted by early Christians. The old tradition was to give dyed chicken eggs and later it became chocolate eggs. The act of Egg giving is popular in Eastern Europe and this tradition indicated the birth of something new. As the Russian monarchy were Russian orthodox Christians, the Tsar wanted to surprise his wife with a jewelled Egg as a symbol of his love and affection.
The First Imperial - Hen Egg
The first Egg was made from pure white enamel outside with the two halves separated by a fine gold band. On opening it revealed a gold encasement representing the yolk. The gold encasement split open to reveal the first surprise which was a gold chicken with ruby eyes. It also contained originally a diamond encrusted miniature crown and a pendant- the latter two items are now missing. The Tsarina was deeply touched and enamoured by this gift, for not only was this unique in conception, it also reminded her of an egg from her home- the Danish Royal Collection.
As the gift was such a hit among the Tsar’s family, his immediate circle but also the wider public, the tradition of a Faberge Egg began from 1885 to 1917 until the revolution destroyed the Royalty.
Tsar Alexander III Easter Eggs for Tsarina Maria
First Hen Egg
Sold by Forbes family to Link of Times Foundation, Russia
Hen Egg with Sapphire Pendant
Third Imperial Egg
Was Missing* Found in 2014* See story below
Cherub with Chariot Egg
Necessaire Egg/Pearl Egg
Danish Palaces Egg
Matilda Gettings Gray Foundation, New Orleans Museum of Art, Louisiana
Memory of Azov Egg
Kremlin Armoury Museum ( never left Russia)
Diamond Trellis Egg
Private Collection, UK
Matilda Gettings Gray Foundation, New Orleans Museum of Art, Louisiana
Sold by Forbes family to Link of Times Foundation, Russia
Danish Palaces Egg 1890
Made of Gold , Enamel, Diamonds, Emeralds, Sapphires and velvet lining. The surprise inside are a set of ten miniature watercolors on mother of pearl depicting the ten residences/palaces Princess Dagmar (Maria) had resided in Russia and in her native Denmark.
Memory of Azov Egg, 1891
Made of Bloodstone, gold and diamonds. The surprise inside is the exact replica of the cruiser Azov. This was the ship taken by Prince Nicholas and Grand Duke George to the far east at the suggestion of their parents. The trip wasn't exactly a success due to ailments and injuries, and it wasn't the Tsarina's favourite Egg.
Diamond Trellis Egg 1892
Made of jade, gold, silver and diamonds, originally contained in the satin lined interior was the surprise of a gold clockwork elephant and its key. This is now missing. There was also meant to be a base with three cherubs representing the Tsarinas three children.
Caucasus Egg 1893
This ruby red egg is made of gold, ivory,enamel and diamonds. There are four panels that depict the imperial hunting lodge up high in the Caucasus where The Tsarina's son Grand duke George spent most of his life as he suffered from Tuberculosis. Each door for the panels has a diamond encrusted numeral depicting 1893.
The Fabergé Legacy
Each Egg became more and more intricate, often containing various surprises such as a miniature jewellery, paintings, models of palaces and clockwork devices. This became such an annual event that even the public got in on the act. There was often wild speculation as to what the egg would be like and what the surprise would be. It was often a closely guarded secret by the House of Fabergé, even the Tsar didn’t know what will be personally hand delivered by Carl himself every year.
The Fabergé Eggs became Carl’s marketing strategies. He soon made every piece of jewellery for the royalty and their circle of Russian aristocracy and nouveau riche. He had a skilled set of designers, artisans in house and also commissioned from Swiss clockmakers and other artists.
He was a consummate designer and jeweller, going to painstaking lengths to create the next Fabergé egg. The design and production of one started soon after the previous one was finished. His three main lead craftsmen wereMichael Perkhin, Henrik Wigström and Erik August Kollin.
Tsar Alexander III's final Gift : Renaissance Egg (1895)
Made of milky agate and inlaid with diamonds, gold, rubies, and enamel this egg was originally thought to contain a surprise gift of pearls. The swing handles on either side are lion's faces. Ithas the year 1894 embellished in diamonds on the top.
A recent unclassified discovery of a resurrection egg has brought speculation that the resurrection egg could have been the original surprise. It follows the same contour as the renaissance egg and is said to fit exactly within.
It is rather poignant that the Tsar's last gift would perhaps have contained the image of Jesus Christ rising from the dead.
Tsar Alexander III commissioned an egg every year during his remaining life- he died in 1984. Of these 10 eggs, 4 are currently missing.
The Eggs from 1886,87.88.89 have been hinted at imperial invoices and some archival photographs but their whereabouts are completely unknown.
They were probably plundered during the Revolution and perhaps sold on or resting in someones dusty attic.This tantalising fact perhaps keeps the Faberge egg collectors awake at night, wondering when they may, if just, resurface.
The Royal Commissions
Astute Carl Fabergé quickly realised young Nikolai, the heir to the throne will probably want to continue the tradition. So now he also started the tradition of creating two eggs, one for the ex Tsarina from her son, and other for the future Tsarina,Princess Alexandra of Hessen (granddaughter of Queen Victoria).
The very first egg Carl fashioned for the future Tsar to give his princess was the Rosebud egg, signifying love. The 'surprise' within was a yellow rosebud made of enamel, representing the popular yellow roses from the princess' home country of Germany.
The new Tsar continued the tradition until he was deposed from the throne in 1917.
From 1894 onwards every year saw this creation of two eggs until 1917. There are no known eggs produced in 1904 or 1905 perhaps due to the war with Japan and the political unrest that followed next year after the Russian defeat.
The total number of Imperial Eggs has been confirmed as 50. The last two made in 1917 were never delivered due to the revolution. Each one is a unique piece of artistry and history. No wonder they fetch millions in auctions and are perhaps one of the most collectible items of jewellery the world has ever seen. Only 42 remain from the original 50, the remaining eight lost in the mists of history, clouded in the smoke of the Bolshevik revolution.
Tsar Nikholai's Fabergé Easter Egg Gifts
To his Mother Maria
To his Wife Alexandra
Blue Serpent Clock Egg
12 Monogrammes/Alexander III portraits
Egg with revolving miniatures
Mauve Egg (missing)
Lilies of the Valley Egg
Madonna Lily clock Egg
Trans -siberian Railway Egg
Gatchina Palace Egg
Flower Basket Egg
Empire Nephrite Egg ( missing)
Royal Danish Egg (missing)
Peter the Great
None known (?war)
Moscow Kremlin Egg
Love Trophies Egg
Rose Trellis Egg
Alexander Palace Egg
Alexander III Commemoration Egg (missing)
Standard Yacht ( standart) Egg
Alexander III Equestrian Egg
15th anniversary Egg
Romanov Tercentenary Egg
Catherine The Great Egg
Red Cross Portraits Egg
Red Cross Triptych Egg
Order of St George Egg
Steel Military Egg
Blue Trsarevich constellation Egg ( incomplete)
Coronation Egg 1897
This special Egg was made for Nicholas II's coronation as a gift for the Tsarina. The gold and diamond extravaganza concealed the 'surprise' of an imperial coach made of gold, platinum, diamonds, rubies and enamel.
Trans Siberian Railway Egg 1900
This beautiful egg contains a full working model of a clockwork gold trans- siberian railway train inside.
Gatchina Palace Egg 1901
This beautiful egg made of gold, white enamel, pearls, diamonds and of opalescent white surface contains a scale model made of gold of the Imperial palace at Gatchina. Given to his mother Maria by Nicholas II in 1901.
The Last Tsar
Nicholas II was crowned the Grand emperor of all the Russia at the age of 26 in November 1894. At that time he was engaged to the German princess Alexandra ( Alix) and had to postpone the wedding due the untimely death of his Father Alexander III and the subsequent coronation.
In many respects Nicholas represents bot the glory days of the Russian Empire and its subsequent bloody revolution. While he is called St Nicholas and passion-bearer by the Russian orthodox church, history also has labelled him 'Bloody Nicholas' for all the blood shed and his subsequent gory end.
The story of the Last Tsar is not one of greed or villainy, it is one of tragedy, naivety and short sightedness. Nicholas was mollycoddled in his youth and failed to mature as a leader under his father. He also faced the transition of the Russian people from unconditional obeisance to abject revolution.
He was always encircled by his family and a coterie of the artistocracy that shielded him from seeing the reality of life for the Russian commoner. The people soon saw the grand opulence and riches as an obscene act of a Tyrant rather than the birthright of royalty.
He made major errors of judgement- the failed war with Japan in 1904, The failure to modernise Russia in line with rest of the Europe, the hesitant and staccato steps towards an attempted democracy... all led to loss of faith in the public eye.
He was also beset by personal tragedy as his long awaited son and heir, Alexei, was soon found to suffer from Hemophilia ( inherited from the Queen Victoria Lineage). This disease was fatal at that time. The Tsarina spent all her time praying for a cure and protecting the young child.
The Winter Egg 1913
Made of beautiful rock crystal, platinum and diamonds this egg contains the surprise of a flower bouquet inside.
Red Cross Triptych - 1915
Along with the resurrection 'surprise' inside the renaissance egg, this is the only other with a religious. contains panels of intricate paintings of Christ inside. The Royal princeesses are dressed in red cross outfits on the front panels.
The Romanov Tragedy
After 300 years of ruling Russia, the grip of the Romanov’s weakened. What were once construed as gifts of love and imperial splendour were perhaps viewed by the starving Russian peasants and workers as obscene displays of opulence.
After the October revolution, the palaces were plundered, the Tsar, Tsarina and their 5 children were under house arrest initially and then were transported to Siberia. They were brought back only to be assassinated brutally under the orders of the leader of the revolution, Vladimir Illyich Lenin.
The story of the Romanov’s are closely intermingled with those glorious eggs, at once illustrating the artistry and innovation of a great jeweller who chronicled their lives within those eggs but ultimately bloodstained by their brutal end.
The Last two
In 1917 , Carl Faberge had already fashioned the Birch Egg for the Dowager queen, Tsarina maria and was fashioning a beautiful Tsarevich Alexei Constellation egg that was supposed to represent the sky at the time of the birth of Prince Alexei ( the Tsarevich) Tsarina's Alexandra's favourite but ailing son. This was never complete. Only recently were pictures and models were found during a Russian exhibition.
The turn of events leading to the bloody revolution meant that the eggs were never delivered and in the case of the latter not completed. Carl Fabergé escaped from Russia and settled in Switzerland only to die in 1920.
While the legacy of Carl Fabergé continues by the House of Faberge his genius has been laid to rest.
Rumour has it that Carl Fabergé and his exquisite designers invented processes for their egg design that were ahead of their time. Where no process existed, Carl simply prompted ( or 'egged' them on, sorry!) and led his team in inventing new ways of enameling, carving, constructing new methodolgies.
As his motto was to be unique, it seems that all the design information and information about the processes were buried away prior to his escape from Russia. These secrets probably still lie somewhere, waiting to be discovered... the world will be richer for that.
The Other Eggs
Faberge also made eggs and egg clocks outside the royal commission and these include the seven Kelch eggs and another 6 of ‘imperial quality’.
Christie’s auction house sold one in 2007, known as the Rothschild egg, setting a record auction price for an item of jewellery at £8.7 million. So if you happen to know the location of the ‘lost’ imperial eggs, now is the chance to root it out and float it in the market!
The Faberge eggs are now scattered across many collections, notably the Russian Imperial museum, the oligarch Viktor Hellenburg, Malcolm Forbes, The British Royal collection, Prince Albert of Monaco, King Farouk of Egypt, the Sandoz millionaires and Armand Hammer ( of Occidental Petroleum) among the famous collectors.
The End, or is it?
Nowhere has beauty and aesthetic worship has co-existed with such bloodshed.
Oh, wait, after all they are Easter Eggs.
The Faberge Eggs are full of grace and beauty despite the bloodstained past, much like Easter itself.
So go on and enjoy your Easter, buy your loved ones chocolate eggs at least (if you cannot afford a Faberge) and spare a thought for Carl Faberge and his wonderful legacy
Lost and Found
The Return of the Missing Egg - 2014
The scrap metal dealer from mid west America bought a piece of jewellery on a whim from a bric-a-brac stall. It was not cheap by his standards- it cost him around $13000 ( £8000) and he intended to reclaim his value by melting the piece down to scrap gold.
It languished in his kitchen for years. The person who was going to buy it from him for melting it down thought it was overpriced and refused it. The dealer kept looking at this piece that had cost him a fair bit and had resulted in no further profit.
The egg shaped gold piece had a watch inside engraved Vacheron Constantin. One night in 2012, he decided to Google the terms 'egg' and 'Vacheron Constantin' and thus started his unbelievable journey to wonderland.
For he soon realised there is a strong chance he may be in possession of a missing Faberge Egg ( The third Imperial Egg to be precise that has been missing since 1908). He researched further and arrived to London to consult a Faberge Specialist. He arrived sleepless, sweating and anxious, clutching a few hastily taken pictures to meet Kieran McCarthy, director of Warstki, a world expert on Faberge items.
Kieran was stunned to dicover that the pictures indeed showed the Third Imperial Egg as presented by Tsar Alexander III to his Empress Maria as part of his annual easter gift.
The Egg is now valued at £20 million.
The nervous scrap metal dealer , who allegedly comes from a very humble background and who does not want to be named is now a multi millionaire.
And the world has recovered a lost masterpiece.
The irony is, having been found, it is likely to disappear into the vaults of another multimillionaire collector and be lost to the world again...
For a more comprehensive and spectacular history of the Faberge Eggs and the Romanovs do visit
They helped me greatly in my research along with the trusty (?) Wikipedia.
© 2011 Mohan Kumar