A Fabergé egg is a jewelled egg created by the House of Fabergé, in St. Petersburg, Imperial Russia. Possibly as many as 69 were created, of which 57 survive today. Virtually all were manufactured under the supervision of Peter Carl Fabergé between 1885 and 1917, the most famous being the 52 “Imperial” eggs, 46 of which survive, made for the Russian Tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II as Easter gifts for their wives and mothers.
The first Fabergé egg was crafted for Tsar Alexander III, who had decided to give his wife, the Empress Maria Feodorovna, an Easter egg in 1885, possibly to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their betrothal. Although there is no official record of the Tsar’s inspiration for it, many believe that he was moved by an egg owned by the Empress’s aunt, Princess Vilhelmine Marie of Denmark, which had captivated Maria’s imagination in her childhood and of which the Tsar was well aware. Known as the Hen Egg, the very first Fabergé egg is crafted from a foundation of gold. Its opaque white enameled “shell” opens to reveal a matte yellow-gold yolk. This, in turn, opens to reveal a multicolored gold hen that also opens. The hen contained a minute diamond replica of the imperial crown from which a small ruby pendant was suspended, but these last two elements have been lost.
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 next year. After that, Peter Carl Fabergé was apparently given complete freedom for the design of future imperial Easter eggs, and their designs became more elaborate. According to Fabergé family lore, not even the Tsar knew what form they would take-the only requirements were that each contain a surprise, and that each be unique. Once Fabergé had approved an initial design, the work was carried out by a team of craftsmen, among them Michael Perkhin, Henrik Wigström and Erik August Kollin.
After Alexander III’s death on 1 November 1894, his son, Nicholas II, presented a Fabergé egg to both his wife, Alexandra Fedorovna, and his mother, the Dowager Empress Maria Fedorovna. Records have shown that of the 50 imperial Easter eggs, 20 were given to the former and 30 to the latter. Eggs were made each year except 1904 and 1905, during the Russo-Japanese War.
The imperial eggs enjoyed great fame, and Fabergé was commissioned to make similar eggs for a few private clients, including the Duchess of Marlborough, the Rothschild family and the Yusupovs. Fabergé was also commissioned to make twelve eggs for the industrialist Alexander Kelch, though only seven appear to have been completed.
Following the revolution and the nationalization of the Fabergé workshop in St. Petersburg by the bolsheviks in 1918, the Fabergé family left Russia. The Fabergé trademark has since been sold several times and several companies have retailed egg-related merchandise using the Fabergé name. The Victor Mayer jewelry company produced limited edition heirloom quality Fabergé eggs authorized under Unilever’s license from 1998 to 2009. The trademark is now owned by Fabergé Limited, which makes egg-themed jewelry.
Location of eggs
Of the 69 known Fabergé eggs, 57 have survived to the present day. Ten of the imperial Easter eggs are displayed at Moscow’s Kremlin Armory Museum. Of the 50 delivered imperial eggs, 44 have survived, and there are photographs of three of the six lost eggs: the 1903 Royal Danish Egg, the 1909 Alexander III Commemorative Egg, and the Nécessaire Egg of 1889. The previously lost Third Imperial Easter Egg of 1887 has since been found in the US and bought by Wartski for a private collector.
After the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks nationalized the House of Fabergé, and the Fabergé family fled to Switzerland, where Peter Carl Fabergé died in 1920. The imperial family’s palaces were ransacked and their treasures moved to the Kremlin Armoury on order of Vladimir Lenin.
In a bid to acquire more foreign currency, Joseph Stalin had many of the eggs sold in 1927, after their value had been appraised by Agathon Fabergé. Between 1930 and 1933, 14 imperial eggs left Russia. 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) and to Emanuel Snowman of the London antique dealers Wartski.
After the collection in the Kremlin Armoury, the largest gathering of Fabergé eggs was assembled by Malcolm Forbes, and displayed in New York City. Totaling nine eggs, and approximately 180 other Fabergé objects, the collection was to be put up for auction at Sotheby’s in February 2004 by Forbes’ heirs. However, before the auction began, the collection was purchased in its entirety by the oligarch Victor Vekselberg. In a 2013 BBC Four documentary, Vekselberg revealed he had spent just over $100 million purchasing the nine Fabergé eggs. He claims never to have displayed them in his home, saying he bought them as they are important to Russian history and culture, and he believed them to be the best jewelry art in the world. In the same BBC documentary, Vekselberg revealed he plans to open a museum that will display the eggs in his collection, which was built as a private Fabergé Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia on 19 November 2013.
In November 2007, a Fabergé clock, named by Christie’s auction house the Rothschild Egg, sold at auction for £8.9 million (including commission). The price achieved by the egg set three auction records: it is the most expensive timepiece, Russian object, and Fabergé object ever sold at auction, surpassing the $9.6 million sale of the 1913 Winter Egg in 2002.
In 1989, as part of the San Diego Arts Festival, 26 Fabergé eggs were loaned for display at the San Diego Museum of Art, the largest exhibition of Fabergé eggs anywhere since the Russian Revolution. The eggs included eight from the Kremlin, nine from the Forbes collection, three from the New Orleans Museum of Art, two from the Royal Collection one from the Cleveland Museum of Art and three from private collections.