Highly-regarded pieces of decorative art, Fabergé eggs were created by Peter Carl Fabergé, of the House of Fabergé, between 1885 and 1917. The eggs were made in Russia and usually contained a tiny surprise inside, as elaborate as a bejewelled clockwork toy. Should one hit the market today, it would be worth at least $30 million.
The Russian royal family commissioned 50, gifting them to each other at Easter. Most elaborately designed and referred to today as the ’imperial eggs’, 43 have been found, but the whereabouts of seven remains a mystery. The first Fabergé egg was made for Tsar Alexander III, as an Easter gift for his wife, the Empress Maria Feodorovna, in 1885. Known as the Hen Egg, it was crafted from gold with an opaque white enamelled shell. Inside was a “yolk”, with a pure gold hen enclosed, in a similar fashion to a Russian nesting doll. Inside the hen was a mini diamond replica of the royal crown and a tiny ruby egg pendant. Empress Maria was so delighted by the gift that Alexander appointed Fabergé a “goldsmith by special appointment to the Imperial Crown”, and commissioned another egg the following year and so the tradition continued. Peter Carl Fabergé was given complete freedom for the design of future imperial Easter eggs. The designs became more and more elaborate, and not even the Tsar was aware what spectacular creations would be made each year. After Alexander III’s death on November 1, 1894, his son Nicholas II carried on the tradition and presented a Fabergé egg to both his wife, Alexandra Feodorovna, and his mother, the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna. The imperial eggs gained attention of the upper class. Fabergé was asked to make similar eggs for the likes of the Duchess of Marlborough, the Rothschild family and the Yusupovs. Industrialist Alexander Kelch commissioned 12 eggs, though only seven appear to have been completed.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
The violent Russian revolutions of 1917 saw the end of this extravagant tradition. In October 1917, the Bolsheviks seized power and the Tsar and his family fled to Ekaterinburg, where they were executed the following July. With the Tzars overthrown, the Fabergé family fled Russia.
The eggs were confiscated. Ten were held at the Kremlin Armoury, another 10 are thought to have been stolen in 1918, and many more were sold by the Bolsheviks and scattered across the West. Inadvertently, Starlin saved a number of the eggs by selling them at an extremely low rate to foreign investors. Others were thought to have been melted down for their precious metals and jewels.
Today you can find 10 of the imperial Easter eggs on display at Moscow’s Kremlin Armoury Museum. Queen Elizabeth has three eggs in her own collection.
From time to time an egg will reappear. The most recent of which was the Third Imperial Easter Egg of 1887.
INTRIGUING FABERGÉ EGGS
1887: THIRD IMPERIAL EASTER EGG
Discarded as a worthless item within a deceased estate, this egg ended up in an American flea market. It was purchased by a man who had intentions of melting down the gold to surpass the £8000 ($14,000) purchase price. When the scrap-metal value was too low, he stubbonly held on to his ‘bad’ purchase. Years later, he Googled the name etched on the timepiece inside the egg, which fortunately connected him to a British Fabergé expert. The £20-million ($35.6-million) goldmine that had been sitting in a humble kitchen in the Mid West, USA, was purchased by a private collector. Antique dealer Wartski was given permission to show the egg to the public in London, in April 2014.
1895: ROSEBUD EGG
The first egg given to Tsar Nicholas II’s new bride Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. The yellow-enamelled rosebud inside was a symbol of their former home in Germany and its rose garden, in which they shared their first Easter. Later owned by an English couple, the central panel was reportedly damaged when the bejewelled egg was thrown across the room during an argument.
1907: THE LOVE TROPHIES EGG
Controversy surrounded this egg for 50 years, with experts struggling to decide when it was given, to whom and how it made it out of Russian. We now know it was a gift from Tsar Nicholas II to his mother, in 1907, and the surprise inside was a miniature of all the imperial children. How it came to be out of Russia, however, has never been confirmed.
1914: IMPERIAL CORONATION EGG
A miniature replica of the coronation coach, it took Fabergé’s craftsman, Georg Stein, 15 months to create.
THE MISSING IMPERIAL EGGS
All seven are imperial eggs, originally gifted to Empress Maria Feodorovna, by either husband Tsar Alexander III or son Nicholas II.
1886: HEN WITH SAPPHIRE PENDANT EGG. Also known as the ‘Egg with Hen in Basket’, it survived the Russian revolution (1917), but has been missing since 1922.
1888: CHERUB WITH CHARIOT EGG. Vague details suggest this egg, known also as the ‘Angel with Egg in Chariot’, was last sold at a New York auction house in 1934.
1889: NÉCESSAIRE EGG. Last sold in 1952, it originally contained a small 13-piece manicure set.
1897: MAUVE EGG. Referred to also as ‘Mauve Egg with 3 Miniatures’, the heart-shaped ‘surprise’ is owned by The Link of Times Foundation, Russia, but the egg is elusive.
1902: EMPIRE NEPHRITE EGG. This egg is thought to have included a medallion portrait of Tsar Alexander III, hence it’s secondary name of ‘Alexander III Medallion Egg’.
1903: ROYAL DANISH EGG. One of the largest eggs, it’s referred to also as the ‘Danish Silver Jubilee Egg’.
1909: ALEXANDER III COMMEMORATIVE EGG. This egg hasn’t been seen by the public since before the Russian revolution (1917).