Profile: Fabergé Eggs

We celebrate one of the great examples of craftsmanship and design from the past. In our pilot issue, we bring you back to Imperial Russia when a series of exquisite ornaments of unparalleled beauty were created

Pre-Communist Imperial Russia at the end of the 19th Century was a very different place from the Russia of today. The extravagant Romanov Dynasty had been in power for almost 300 years. With their immense wealth, the Romanov clan commissioned a series of bejeweled treasures that coincided tragically with the ignominious end to their reign.

After having been introduced in 1882 to the works of the House of Fabergé at an exhibition in Moscow, Tsar Alexander III of Russia appointed them Suppliers to the Imperial Court. Then, as an Easter surprise in 1885, the Tsar asked Fabergé to make his Tsarina Maria Feodorovna a gift worthy of an Empress. His wife suitably delighted, the Tsar thus established a tradition of presenting her with another unique creation of appropriate majesty every year hence.

I had previously heard the Fabergé name bandied about now and again, without any idea what it meant in terms of historical significance. Latterly associated with a range of personal hygiene products, the name has definitely seen better days. Indeed, even the extravagant jeweled eggs made by the Fabergé of today do not possess the cachet of the original House of Fabergé in its heyday. In fact, the more I found out about Fabergé's original Imperial Easter eggs, the more my jaw slackened.

The first ever Imperial Fabergé Easter Egg was seemingly just that, an egg. Covered in white enamel, it looked like a perfect chicken egg. However, when opened it revealed a gilt-lined interior, with a separate hollow golden yolk that itself contained a surprise. Inside the yolk was a golden hen with eyes of ruby. That was not the end of the surprise, for inside the miniature hen lay another egg-shaped ruby pendant that hung inside a diamond-set replica of the Imperial crown.

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The Hen Egg, the first Imperial egg, was presented by Tsar Alexander III to his wife, Tsarina Maria Feodorovna, at Easter 1885. Its value is estimated at USD 3-4 million.

Each successive year's egg was more extravagant and finely-detailed than the last. The surprises inside became more and more inspired. The eggs were in and of themselves, distinctive and inimitable works of art.

The House of Fabergé's fanatical attention to detail is what made the Eggs so very special. From such marvelous beginnings, the entire collection has become something worthy of legend (Their frequent mention in popular culture reaffirms this). In all, only 56 eggs were ever made for the Imperial family. (A few others were commissioned by a Siberian businessman of the era but these are not the objects of fascination the Imperial collection is.) Most survive today in private collections and at various museums and exhibitions around the world.

Notable Pieces

Without doubt, the Coronation Egg is the most famous of them all - having been been stolen twice in the movies. Because of its lavishness, intricacy, and its golden splendor, it is perhaps the most iconic of them all, and definitely the most coveted and valuable. It singlehandedly encapsulates the luxury of monarchy, with a sense of simultaneous grace and whimsy that symbolizes the whole dynasty.

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The most famous Faberge egg in existence, the Coronation Egg is a paragon of craftsmanship. The surface is enamelled translucent yellow applied to a golden field of starbursts. The egg is trellised with bands of laurel wrought from gold. Opaque, black-enamelled Imperial eagles appear at each trellis intersection. Each eagle carries a small diamond on its chest.

The miniature coronation coach contained within is highly-detailed and took 15 months to fabricate. The upholstery of the original coach was faithfully reproduced in red and blue enamel. The gilt coach frame was reproduced in gold, the iron wheel rims in platinum, and glass windows in etched rock crystal. The coach is surmounted by an Imperial crown with rose diamonds. (Description courtesy of the Faberge Experience.)

The Coronation Egg, and a few other notable eggs, are now in the lucky hands of a Russian oil tycoon, who bought his eggs from the Forbes family in 2004, just before their auction. According to Forbes' own magazine, the estimated auction value of the nine Eggs was between US$80-$120 million at the time. (The Coronation Egg alone was valued at $20 million or so - the rest between $4 and $10 million each.)

With their workmanship, beauty and spectacular prices, the collection of Fabergé Imperial Eggs is not going to disappear from our consciousness anytime soon. While time may have forgotten the stories - and sadly, some of the surprises - behind some of these eggs, the Fabergé Imperial Eggs remain a stunning testament of the beauty man is capable of creating.

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Translucent enamel egg, encrusted with 1,618 rose-cut diamonds and containing a wind-up elephant, made in 1900 by Faberge. Here in a multi-exposure shot, we see the wind-up elephant walking.

The Men Behind The Eggs

Peter Carl Fabergé was born in Russia to parents of French heritage in 1846. The family were jewelers by trade. Peter Carl inherited the business when he was 24, and with the help of his brother Agathon, built up a reputation of fine craftsmanship by perfectly copying old Russian treasures. Their craftsmanship skills were noticed by the Tsar Alexander III and his wife, who soon appointed the House of Fabergé Suppliers to the Imperial Court. Indeed, by this time, the House of Fabergé was home to some of the world's foremost jewelry artisans and goldsmiths.

Interestingly enough, neither Peter Carl nor Agathon personally created any of their famous eggs themselves. It was, in actual fact, a man called Mikhail Perkhin who was responsible for many of the eggs. As the main work master of the House of Fabergé, his initials are stamped upon most of the more coveted eggs. MP markings are found on the Coronation Egg, Lilies of the Valley Egg and the Renaissance Egg, amongst others.

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