Those Beautiful and Coveted Faberge Eggs… Happy Easter!

Are you lucky enough to receive a Faberge Egg this Easter? let’s indulge into a bit of history. The brand managed to carry itself through the years, even when the company stopped functioning.

The first Fabergé egg was crafted for Tsar Alexander III, in a romantic gesture to his wife, the Empress Maria Fedorovna in 1885 – 20th anniversary of their engagement. Alexander III remembered how much Maria liked the golden egg that her aunt, Princess Wilhelmine Marie of Denmark had.  This was the very first egg that was commissioned from Peter Karl Faberge.

OK, so this was a nice legend. According to documents published in 1997, it appears quite clear that the Tsar had nothing to do with the commission. The egg was commissioned from Fabergé by Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovitch, and then sent to the Tsar with detailed instructions on how to open it. So the jury is still out on whether Faberge speculatively created the egg and approached the Tsar (according to Faberge’s biographer, that is exactly what happened) or it was made at the request of the Empress.

The egg consists of an opaque white enamel shell, with a hidden release mechanism. When pressed, the shell opens to reveal a polished gold yolk. Upon opening the yolk, a four-color gold hen is revealed as the surprise. The hen is hinged on the tail feathers which allows it to also open up to reveal two additional surprises which are now missing. The first of these was a gold and diamond replica of the imperial crown. Suspended within the crown as the final surprise was a tiny ruby pendant. A necklace chain was included so the Tsarina could wear the pendant. The egg, when manufactured, cost 4,151 rubles, 75 kopecks, and was moved to the Empress’ residence in the Anitchkov Palace. This was the first egg presented to the Empress Marie by Alexander III.
Inside the egg there is the gold yolk, and inside it a golden hen with ruby eyes. Inside the hen there was a ruby crown and inside the crown a pendant. The last two surprises, the diamonds crown and a ruby pendant, were irretrievably lost when the egg was sold by the Bolshevik’s government in the 1920s. A related lapis lazuli hen egg in the Cleveland Museum of Art from the collection of India Early Minshall, possibly a variation on the theme by Fabergé, still retains a ruby pendant suspended within the crown.

In the 1920′s, the egg was purchased by Mr Berry in London for an undisclosed sum. On March 15, 1934, the egg was sold at auction by Christie’s London for the sum of 85 GBP (deep breath, right?). The piece was purchased by Mr R. Suenson-Taylor- the first Baron Grantchester in 1953, and in June of 1976, the Estate of Lord and Lady Grantchester made the egg available to A La Vieille Russie in New York. In January of 1978, The First Imperial Egg was sold  to the Forbes Collection.

After eighty years of exile this egg has been returned home thanks to Russian businessman Viktor Vekselberg, Chairman of board of directors of Open Society “Sual-holding” who has purchased the whole collection before advertised bidding, in an unprecedented step in auction practice.

But let’s get back to the beautiful designs. Faberge had complete freedom of design for future Imperial Easter Eggs, and his designs became more and more elaborate. According to the Fabergé family tradition, not even the Tsar knew what form they would take: the only requirement was that each one should contain a surprise. Following the death of Alexander III on November 1, 1894, his son presented a commemorative Fabergé egg to both his wife, the Empress Alexandra Fedorovna, and to his mother, the Dowager Empress Maria Fedorovna.

The Imperial eggs enjoyed great fame, and Fabergé made some other large eggs for a few select private clients, such as the Duchess of Marlborough, the Nobels, the Rothschilds and the Yusupovs. A series of seven eggs was made for the industrialistAlexander Kelch.

In the 1983 James Bond movie Octopussy, a Faberge egg is the object of a bidding war between James Bond and Kamal Khan. Bond replaces the real egg with a dummy egg that contains a recording device.

The record selling price for a Faberge egg was at Christie’s in 2007, when the famous Rothschild’s egg was sold to the Director of the Russian National Museum, Alexander Ivanov, for $US 18.5 million.  The jeweled egg was made in 1902 for the Rothschild family and was given as an engagement present to Germaine Halphen before her marriage to Baron Edouard de Rothschild in 1905.