The Imperial Easter Eggs

Peter Carl Faberge`

It’s almost one a.m. on a chilly night before Easter. The year is 1885. In his workshop on Bolshya  Morskaya a fashionable street in St. Petersburg, Peter Carl Faberge` is giving the final finishing touches to a beautiful golden Easter egg. This is no ordinary Easter egg and Faberge` is no ordinary jeweler. He's recently been titled ‘Master Jeweler’ and been awarded a gold medal by Tsar Alexander III. Faberge` had been commissioned by him to make an Easter egg for his wife Tsarina Maria Feodorovna.  The Tsar wanted to present the egg to his wife on Easter and also celebrate their twentieth wedding anniversary

The Hen Egg
The next morning the Tsar presents the egg to his wife. The egg which came to be known as the ‘Hen Egg’, is crafted from a foundation of gold. Its opaque white enamelled ‘shell’ opens to reveal a matt yellow yolk made entirely of gold. The yolk in turn opens to reveal a golden hen that’s resting on a bed of suede edged with striped gold fashioned to resemble straw. The hen contains a diamond and ruby replica of the imperial crown from which a small ruby pendant is suspended. Maria is so delighted with the gift that the Tsar commissions Faberge` to create an egg for Easter for his wife every year. He is given a free hand to design the eggs, the only requirement from the Tsar is that each egg should contain a surprise and be unique.

From then on it became a royal tradition to have Faberge` create this small, mesmerizing, jeweled work of art every Easter. With each passing year he outdid himself, his workmanship and designs becoming more intricate and elaborate.

 Once Faberge` approved of the design, the work was executed by a team of talented craftsmen under his close supervision. Extreme emphasis  was laid on fine craftsmanship, creativity, beauty and very high standards were set for everyone who worked for him.

In November 1894, the Tsar passed away and his son Nicholas II became the new Tsar of Russia. The newly appointed king kept up the tradition of presenting a Faberge` egg every Easter to the Empress, but now instead of one he commissioned Faberge' to create two eggs. One was made for his wife Alexandra Fyodorovna and one for his mother the Dowager Empress. All together fifty imperial eggs were created; twenty were given to the Empress and thirty to the Dowager Empress.

The Lilies of the Valley Egg

For the Easter of 1898 Faberge` created the ‘Lilies of the Valley’ egg. Nicholas II presented this egg to his wife. The egg is covered in pearls and topped with rose-pink enamel. It’s supported by cabriolet legs of green gold leaves; with rose cut diamond dew-drops. The gold stemmed lilies have green enameled leaves and flowers made of gold, set with rubies, pearls and diamonds.

The surprise reveals itself by twisting a gold mounted pearl button. When fully raised, three portraits are visible under the imperial crown. Tsar Nicholas II and his two oldest daughters, the Grand Duchess Olga and the Grand Duchess Tatiana.  The portraits are framed in rose diamonds and backed with gold panels, engraved with the presentation year-1898. Today this egg is housed in the Faberge` museum in St. Petersburg.

 Faberge` became extremely wealthy and famous in imperial Russia. In 1900, he was awarded with a gold medal at the World’s Fair in Paris, France honored him with one of the most prestigious awards, appointing him a Knight of the Legion of Honor. The eggs were made each year, except in 1904 and 1905 when Russia was at war with Japan. Nicholas II resumed the tradition in 1906 and carried it on until 1917.

The Tsarevich Egg

In 1912, the Tsar presented his wife with the Tsarevich egg. Unknown to all except the royal family at that time, Alexi was expected to die of hemophilia and was so close to death at one point that the Russian Imperial court had already drawn up his death certificate. When Alexi survived, Faberge`, who knew about his health created the egg for his mother as a tribute to the miracle of his survival. The egg is 15 cm in height; the outer shell is made from Lapis Lazuli with architectural style gold cage work in a design of leafy scrolls. The gold motifs cover each joint, making the egg look like it was carved from a single block of Lapis.

 The gold work includes two imperial double headed eagles, as well as cupids, canopies, floral scrolls, flower baskets and garlands. Two large diamonds, one on top and one at the bottom are encrusted into the eggs surface showing the initials of the Tsarina, the year 1912 and the imperial crown. Inside the egg the surprise is a Russian double headed imperial eagle with a miniature portrait of Tsarevich Alexi set in platinum and encrusted with diamonds. This intricate frame sits on a base of Lapis Lazuli and can be completely removed from the egg.

T he Winter Egg

In 1913, Faberge` created the winter egg. The Tsar presented this 10.2 cm high beauty to his mother. The exterior of the egg resembles frost and ice crystals formed on clear grass. It’s studded with 1,660 diamonds and is made from quartz, platinum and orthoclase. The surprise is a miniature basket of flowers, announcing the coming of spring. The basket is studded with 1,378 diamonds and is made from platinum and gold. The flowers are made of white quartz and the leaves are made of demantoid. The flowers lie in moss made from gold. This egg was sold at an auction at Christie’s in New York in 2002 for USD 9.6 million to the former Emir of Qatar.

In 1917, Faberge` keeping to the tradition worked on two eggs, but before they could be presented, the Bolshevik’s February Revolution broke out and Nicholas II was forced to abdicate the throne. His entire family was executed the following year. The eggs and many other treasures were confiscated by the interim government. The two final eggs were never delivered nor paid for. In 1918 the ‘House of Faberge` was nationalized by the Bolsheviks.

After the nationalization Carl Faberge` left St. Petersburg on the last diplomatic train for Riga, finally the family settled in Switzerland. He never recovered from the shock of the revolution and died on September 24th 1920 of what many believed to be a broken heart.

Today, there are ten eggs at the Kremlin Armory, nine at the Faberge` museum in St. Petersburg, Five at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and three each at the Royal Collection in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Two more are on display in Lausanne, Switzerland, two at Hillwood Estate in Washington, D.C and two at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. There’s a single egg in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art, one at the Faberge` Museum in Baden- Baden, Germany. One is also owned by the former Emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.

The fate of eight imperial eggs remains a mystery. Two eggs are believed to be in the west, these are the 1889 Necessaire Egg, last spotted in London in 1949 and the 1888 Cherub with Chariot Egg, which  seems to have been exhibited at Lord & Taylor department store in New York in 1934.

In 1924 Faberge's sons opened a store called Faberge 'and Cie in Paris. Today the company
 is headquartered in Mayfair in London. 

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