The House Of Fabergé
In 1885, the Russian Tsar Alexander III commissioned a gift to be made for his wife, Tsarina Maria Feodorovna, in celebration of Easter; one of the most important festivals in the Russian-Orthodox ecclesiastical calendar. The Tsar recruited Peter Carl Fabergé, an award winning master goldsmith and owner of House of Fabergé, after he inherited it from his father Gustav Fabergé, in the 1870s. The St. Petersburg born craftsman was known for constructing fine objects, jewellery and assisting in restorations for the Hermitage Museum. As an art fanatic, it is believed the Russian jeweller found inspiration for his first commissioned gift from the 18th century Saxon Royal Egg, which he had seen in the Green Vault Museum in Dresden; a gold egg encasing a gold hen, a gold crown, and a ring. Fabergé excelled this matryoshka doll-like theme of crafting a gift within a gift by manufacturing The First Hen Egg; a luxurious egg made from white enamel, which opened to a gold yolk that concealed a small gold hen, which in turn opened to a pendant ; the ‘surprise’ of the egg. This was given to Tsarina Maria Feodorovna in 1885 and marked the beginning of long partnership between the two families.
Each year for the next three decades, the Russian Tsar would employ Fabergé to envision and oversee the production of the imperial Easter eggs. Once Alexander III died in 1894, his son Tsar Nicholas II kept the tradition alive, and raised the stakes to commissioning two eggs per year; one for his mother, Maria, and one for his wife, Alexandra. Each egg was entirely unique and made from a range of precious stones and materials. Fabergé was pretty much left to his own accord in relation to the design of the eggs with the Tsar giving only one rule; there must always be a ‘surprise’ hidden within each egg. In 1916, the Bolsheviks seized St. Petersburg, ending the three-century long Romanov rule. The family was forced to flee the city, leaving behind the 50 imperial Fabergé eggs, made between 1885 and 1916.
Nicholas and his family went into exile, after abdicating the throne and all the family were executed in July of 1918. The Fabergé workshop was no longer in existence, as many workers left to fight in World War I; Fabergé fled to Switzerland where he died two years later. The 50 imperial eggs were looted and transported to Moscow during the Russian Revolution; many were sold to private dealers including five eggs bought by Lillian Thomas Pratt, patron of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) .
To this day, 43 known eggs are scattered around the world; the largest cluster belonging to the Kremlin Armoury and the Fabergé Museum in St. Petersburg. The next largest collection is Pratt’s at the VMFA, followed by the trio of eggs that belonged to Matilda Geddings Gray, held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The British Royal Family also has three eggs.
Now, after that small history lesson, we look at a couple of our favourite Fabergé eggs from the Romanov dynasty.
Coronation Egg (1897)
The most iconic Fabergé egg extant today is the Coronation Egg; Fabergé crafted this work of art in celebration of Tsarina Alexandra’s imperial coronation. The egg is made from gold with translucent yellow-green enamel on a guilloché field of starbursts, in reference to the cloth of gold robe worn by the Tsarina at her Coronation. The egg is bookended by portrait diamonds and is covered with bands of greenish gold laurel leaves mounted at each intersection by a gold Imperial double-headed eagle. Accompanying the egg is a toy-sized replica of the coach that transported the Empress on the day of the imperial ceremony. One could open the small carriage doors and pull out a step stool, and within it, there was a tiny diamond egg.
Winter Egg (1913)
A gift from Nicolas to his Mother, the Winter egg is the most original of all the imperial eggs. Consisting of three blocks of rock crystal that were fashioned to represent shards of melting ice marking the advent of Spring, the egg was engraved with platinum and diamond snowflakes on the exterior. Once opened, one would find a small, platinum woven basket with flowers made from white quartz; also representing the start of Spring.
Pearl Egg (2017)
Although not made by Peter Carl Fabergé himself, The House Of Fabergé recently unveiled the Pearl Egg, the first egg with ‘imperial’ class in over 100 years. Debuted at last year’s Baselworld, the stunning masterpiece stands just less than five inches tall and is set with 139 golden pearls, 3,305 diamonds, carved precious crystals and mother-of-pearl on both white and yellow gold. Handcrafted by 20 artisans, the incredible creation incorporates an innovative new mechanism that rotates the egg’s outer shell on its stand to open the egg in six petal-like sections, revealing a rare 12.17k gray pearl, sourced from the Arabian Gulf. The work of art was created for natural-pearl collector Hussain Al-Fardan and marks the beginning of a new series of private commissions from The House of Fabergé.
Serious Fabergé collectors to this day are devoted to locating the missing seven eggs, lured by the possibility that they are still in existence, somewhere. In 2012, for example, the ‘Third Imperial Egg’ was discovered by an American man years after he bought it at an antique market; the lucky finder sold the egg for $33 million. Has this made you re-think your egg hunt this year?