Fabergé eggs are decorative eggs produced by Russian jewellery firm the House of Fabergé between 1885 and 1917. They are made of precious metals or hard stones decorated with combinations of enamel and gem stones. Thousands of miniature eggs were produced to be given as gifts celebrating Easter, the most important feast of the Russian Orthodox Church. These miniatures were attached to neck chains and worn singly or in groups.
The most famous of the eggs however are the 65 larger versions, 50 of which were specially commissioned by Tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II of Russia.
Others were made for a small select number of private clients. These larger eggs were each designed around a different theme, and were intricately detailed and lavishly decorated.
The eggs have come to represent both the peak of jewellery craftsmanship and the decadence of a doomed monarchy, and today they are highly prized as antique works of art and significant cultural artefacts.
Due to their limited numbers and high price tags, Faberge eggs are relitively difficult to collect.
Notable collectors of Faberge eggs include Malcolm Forbes.
The first Faberge egg
In 1885 Tsars Alexander III commissioned the jeweller Peter Carl Fabergé to create a jewelled egg as a gift for his wife Empress Maria Fedorovna. This first egg, known as the ‘Hen’s Egg’, had a gold shell covered in polished white enamel to resemble an real egg.
The two halves opened to reveal a matt gold yolk, within which was a small golden hen with ruby eyes. Inside the hen was a tiny diamond replica of the royal crown, which concealed an even smaller ruby pendant.
The Empress was delighted and Fabergé was appointed a ‘goldsmith by special appointment to the Imperial Crown’. He was commissioned to create a further egg each year, and was given the freedom to create them around whichever theme he wished. The only stipulation was that each one should contain a surprise.
When Alexander died suddenly in November 1894, his son Nicholas II ascended to the throne and continued the tradition, but ordered one each for his mother and his wife the Empress Alexandra Fedorovna.
In 1900 the Imperial Eggs were displayed at the World Exhibition in Paris, and Faberge’s craftsmanship brought him celebrity and awards. The Fabergé workshops were flooded with commissions from aristocracy and leaders of industry from around the world, transforming an ordinary goldsmith shop into the famous "House of Fabergé."
During this time Fabergé also produced a series of seven eggs for the Russian industrialist Alexander Kelch, along with seven individual commissions for clients such as the Duchess of Marlborough and the French socialite Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild.
In 1917, the Russian Revolution led to the overthrow of the government and the abdication of Nicholas II, who had grown disconnected to the realities of poverty and hardship in the country. With no support from the people or the army he attempted to flee with his family but was arrested, and executed in Siberia in 1918 along with his wife and five children.
The Kremlin Armoury
Following the Revolution, the House of Fabergé was nationalized by the Bolsheviks, and the Fabergé family fled to Switzerland, where Peter Carl Fabergé died in 1920. The Imperial palaces were looted, and the majority of their treasures including the eggs were taken by Lenin to be stored in the Kremlin Armoury.
There they lay hidden until 1927, when they were rediscovered and offered for sale to the West by Stalin to raise much needed funds. Between 1930 and 1933, fourteen of the Imperial Easter eggs were sold and left the country.
Many of the eggs were sold to Armand Hammer, president of Occidental Petroleum and a personal friend of Lenin, whose father was founder of the United States Communist party. He struggled to find buyers in America, which was in the middle of the Depression, but eventually he sold them, along with thousands of Russian works of art on behalf of the Soviets, to collectors by touring them round department stores throughout the country.
Some were sold for as little as a few hundred dollars, rather than the millions they command today.
In all, 57 of the 65 large eggs created have survived today.
Eight of the fifty Imperial eggs have never been discovered.
Ten of these Imperial eggs remain in the Kremlin Armoury Museum in Moscow, and nine were recently returned to Russia by the industrialist Viktor Vekselberg after he purchased them from the Malcolm Forbes collection in February 2004.
The rest, along with the Kelch eggs and other individually commissioned eggs, are in the hands of various museums and private collectors worldwide.
Types of Faberge egg
There were 65 large Fabergé eggs created, with 57 known to have survived. Each of these has a specific name and a history behind it, along with its individual theme designed by Peter Carl Fabergé. The whereabouts of each surviving egg is well-documented.
The world’s most expensive Fabergé egg
The most expensive Fabergé egg ever sold at auction was the Faberge Rothschild Egg, created in 1902. It featured a clock and opened at the top to reveal a gold cockerel automaton.
It was sold by Christie's in 2007 to Alexander Ivanov, the director of the Russian National Museum, for a record-breaking price of $18,499,830. It simultaneously became the most expensive timepiece, Russian object, and Fabergé object ever sold at auction.
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