Our Favourite Fabergé Eggs Of All Time
Synonymous with luxurious objet d’artes, Fabergé has been a world leader in hyperbolic decorative pieces for centuries. Throughout history, Fabergé’s works have a close and fruitful friendship with jewellery couture. Notably, in the Victorian and Edwardian period, the creations that bloomed from the hands of Fabergé’s many talented goldsmiths captured the sensibility and style of Imperial Russia. From three dimensional golden birds to jewelled flowers and richly saturated enamel egg charms, we can only imagine the trove of treasures behind the walls of its historic workshops.
Yet the name of Fabergé has been cemented in history due to its annual creation of a one-of-a-kind bejewelled Easter egg for the Russian royal family. Utilising a traditional symbol of rebirth, renewal and new life, Fabergé eggs showed the greatest talent of skilled goldsmiths. It is believed that only 65 have ever been created, with 50 of these originally gifted to the Imperial Russian Royal Family. The other 15 have been lost in time, perhaps circulated amongst the hands of noblemen and noblewomen.
The glamorous and ostentatious Fabergé eggs also follow the trajectory of the downfall and execution of Romanov family, a momentous and blood thirsty event during the Russian Revolution.
When the eggs were first commissioned, they showed Russia’s intense wealth and power in the world, yet as global events changed over the years, they soon became a symbol for the archaic and financially out-of-touch royal family. At the time the eggs were being created, they were worth thousands (today, millions), whilst many of Russia’s population were going hungry. It is also believed that this tumultuous time was a huge factor in the 15 missing eggs. However, whilst these missing eggs themselves are a haunting reminder of the revolution, the allure and secrecy surrounding them and their provenance are magnified, making them priceless.
Slightly different from the standard Cadbury’s chocolate egg we come to know and love during this time of year, the Fabergé eggs are some of the most richly decorated objects in the world - just imagine plunging your teeth into one of these beauties?
Collection of Fabergé Eggs Owned by Queen Elizabeth I, Source - The Royal Collection Trust
Little History of Romanov Family And The Russian Revolution
To understand the significance of Fabergé eggs, especially if this is your first time learning about them, then you need to know about the Romanov family and the Russian revolution (a dosage of history for you over the Easter weekend!)
The house of Romanov was the reigning royal house of Russia between 1613 and 1917 - an impressive three hundred years! The house of Romanov built Russia into the imperial power-house, and perhaps austere presence that we know today. In fact Tsar itself translates to “Caesar”. It is believed that the golden age for Imperial Russia was during the 18th century when the country was ruled by Catherine the Great (1762-1796) and Emperor Alexander II (1855-1881). During this time, Russia played a momentous role in the defeat of Napolean Bonaparte and the emancipation of serfs. Yet throughout their history, the Romanov family was peppered with both liberals and conservatives, with each successor different from the last. This meant that the autocracy and feel of each generation could vary significantly.
Photographic Portrait of the Romanov Family, c.1913, Source - Wikimedia Commons
So, something huge must have occurred to topple the reign of this 300 year dynasty, and this was the February revolution of 1917. There are many reasons as to why this revolt began.
Historians believe that many Russians thought the political structures of an autocratic monarch were archaic, and Imperial Russia had tried throughout the 19th and early 20th century (but failed) to establish more of a democracy, which only made these frustrations worse. What’s more, there was a continuity of civil and military unrest between the common people, aristocratic landowners and the Tsar himself. This included poor working conditions and the cruel treatment of workers. Another factor was that in 1905, Russia experienced a huge humiliating loss in its war with Japan which consequently led to the deaths of many innocent civilians where Tsar-led troops opened fire upon peaceful unarmed protesters.
From frustration, the plague of bitterness grew; democratic ideals of the west started to circulate amongst political activists, as many wished for a communist, rather than capitalist state. So, it is no surprise that the views towards the Tsar and the Romanovs were quickly becoming distorted in the eyes of many.
During 1917, Russia was caught in the grips of World War I, where the previous social, economic and political tensions were being further exacerbated.
Photograph of Protestors from the Putilov Plant in the February Revolution, c.1917, Source - Wikimedia Commons
At first, during the outbreak of WWI, a brief wave of national pride stalled the country's internal strife. However, this feeling quickly dissipated as the army started to suffer major defeats, which led to many desertions and the belief that the commanders were incompetent. What’s more Tsar Nicholas II decided to personally command the army which was disastrous for the family’s already declining reputation. Not only did it directly associate the monarchy with the unpopular war, but also Nicholas II was a poor quarrelsome leader and he was unable to govern the country.
Photograph of Nicholas II Of Russia, Date Unknown, Source - Wikimedia Commons
At this point, inflation had sky-rocketed and commodities were scarce, with many poorer communities suffering from famine. People of all ages started rioting about the food shortages and many partook in industrial strikes.The sheer amount of people rioting, and with tensions at boiling point, meant that many troops deserted Saint Petersburg. Nicholas II was consulted by members of the nobility who suggested that he should form a new constitutional government, yet his ignorance of this advice was quite literally the final nail in his coffin.
Quickly, Nicholas II had lost the support of his people, the military and the nobility, and with the bleak outlook worsening, many believed that a revolution could be the only salve. Nicholas II was overthrown and himself and his family were executed. This led to the Bolshevik’s coming into power and the beginnings of the communist marxist state of the USSR.
Meeting of the Bolshevik Party, c.1920, Source - Wikimedia Commons
Little History of Fabergé
So, where did the Fabergé Easter egg come from? Imperial Russia was an Orthodox Christian country and the Romanov's were extremely devout. In Eastern Orthodox Christianity Easter is the most important day of the year, so it only seemed fitting to them that they would have an ornate artistic egg to mark this momentous annual occasion.
Established in 1842 in St Petersburg by Gustav Faberge, like most jewellery houses and designers, Fabergé grew from humble beginnings. Fabergé distinguished itself from its rivals by purposefully adding the diacritic to the name’s final ‘e.’ It was believed that Gustav did this to make the brand appear more French to the Russian audience. During this time, the Russian nobility had a thing or two for Francophilia. French was the official language of Russia’s royal court, and France was hugely associated with the production of luxury goods. So, at first glance, Fabergé instantly connoted couture.
Photograph of Gustav Fabergé, c.1860, Source - Wikimedia Commons
To establish the legacy of his house, Gustav Faberge made sure that his son Carl Fabergé was educated at fashionable establishments as well as undertaking jewellery education from the finest goldsmiths in Frankfurt, Germany, France, and England. This paid off in 1881, Carl became master jeweller of the firm. Carl’s leading status meant that he was part of the Imperial cabinet which was involved in the respiration and repair of the Hermitage museum artefacts, the leading art gallery in Russia. This connection itself, led to the meteoric rise of Fabergé. With Carl’s direction, Fabergé began to establish its own distinctive style.
Previously, jewellery was valued and appreciated due to its carat content, whereas Carl Fabergé believed that it should be creativity and craftsmanship that dictated the inherent value of the piece.
Fabergé’s connection with the Hermitage meant that the jewellery firm was invited to exhibit in the Pan-Russian exhibition in Moscow in 1882. One of Fabergé’s pieces was a replica of a 4th century BC Scythian treasure Gold bangle, which Tsar Alexander III proclaimed that he could not tell apart the original and Fabergé’s creation. From this, he ordered that Fabergé’s work should be permanently displayed within the Hermitage as stellar examples of Russian craftsmanship.
The Rothschild Fabergé Egg, c.1902, Source - The Hermitage Museum
In 1885, Fabergé was appointed the honour of “Goldsmith by special appointment to the Imperial crown”. Despite the revolution, the Tsar’s had exceptionally lavish taste, a complete paradox to the world unfolding at their feet.
What’s more, in 1885, the first Easter egg was commissioned by Alexander III, a gift for his wife the Empress Maria Feodorovna. And the rest, they say, is history!
Our Seven Favourite Fabergé Imperial eggs
The Hen Egg, 1885
The Hen Egg, c.1885, Source - Wikimedia Commons
The first Easter egg commissioned by Alexander III, the hen egg is a charming and surprisingly unostentatious creation, especially in comparison to Fabergé’s later Easter eggs. The Tsarina Empress Maria Feodorovna loved the egg so much that Alexander III placed a standing order with Fabergé to create a new egg for the Imperial royal family each Easter.
This egg in particular was attributed to Erik Kollin of Fabergé’s workshop. Although the egg may not be as sparkling or superlative like the other future Easter eggs, it was rich in sustenance, showing Carl Fabergé’s style of exquisite craftmenship. The entirety of the egg was created in solid Gold, and the outer shell was coated in white Enamel to create a naturalistic portrayal of a real egg. Inside, the “yolk” is a matte yellow Gold sphere which itself can be opened to reveal a Golden hen with Ruby encrusted eyes. But the surprises continue, as inside the hen is a Gold and Diamond replica of the Imperial crown and a tiny Ruby pendant.
Allegedly, this egg was inspired by an 18th century egg that the Tsarina knew from when she was a child at the Princess of Denmark’s royal court.
The hen egg was kept in the Anichkov palace until the 1917 revolution. During the revolution, it was seized by the protestors and moved to the Armory Palace of the Kremlin. To rid themselves of the Romanov’s past, and to dispel any counter revolutions, a majority of the Easter eggs were sold overseas. It is believed that this egg was purchased from the Russians by a London dealer in 1920. The egg was then bought by Lord Grantchester and it remained in his estate until he died in 1976.
A New York antique shop A La Vielle Russie acquired the egg and sold it to Forbes Magazine Collection in 1978. The egg was then purchased by Russian businessmen Viktor Vekselberg in 2004, whom returned it to Russia. The egg is now part of the permanent collection of the Fabergé Museum in St Petersburg.
The Rosebud Egg, 1895
The Rose Bud Egg, c.1895, Source - Wikimedia Commons
10 years after the creation of the Hen egg, the Rosebud egg is perhaps more synonymous with the quintessential Imperial Russian taste, heavily jeweled and inlaid with scarlet red guilloché Enamel.
The rosebud egg was commissioned by Emperor Nicholas II to give to his wife Empress Alexandra Feodorovna a few months after their marriage. Neoclassical in style, the entirety of the egg was crafted from multi-coloured Gold and encrusted with rose-cut Diamonds. The apex of the egg contains a miniature portrait of the emperor underneath a table-cut Diamond.
The egg opens like a bonbonniére to reveal a charming yellow enamelled rosebud. Inside, two surprises were encased within its petals - a Gold Diamond and Ruby crown, and a cabochon Ruby pendant.
The egg’s inspiration came from the rose gardens of Darmstadt which, when she was a Princess, the Empress often visited. What’s more the choice of a yellow rose is significant as it was the most valued type of rose in the Empresses’ native Germany.
In 1917 the egg was confiscated by the Russian Provisional Government, and was later sold to Wartski jewellers in 1927, a British firm that specialised in Russian antique art. After 1930, the egg was lost for decades, with rumours that it had been damaged in a marital dispute. However, it was formally identified in 1985 and was one of the eggs purchased by Viktor Vekselberg in 2004. Like the hen egg, the rosebud egg is now on display at the Fabergé Museum in St Petersburg.
Coronation Egg, 1897
The Imperial Coronation egg was created in 1897 to honour the coronation of Tsarina Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna. Like most of the Fabergé eggs, this piece was created entirely from solid Gold and encased with translucent lime green Enamel with guilloché starbursts. The inspiration for the appearance and design of this egg apparently came from the Empresses’ cloth of Gold robe that she wore at the coronation.
Considered to be one of Fabergé’s most iconic eggs, the egg is also encrusted with black enamel eagle heads and Diamonds, with the clear monogram of the Empress within a portrait Diamond.
The surprise inside the egg was a precise, velvet-lined replica of the 18th century Imperial coach that took the Empress to her coronation. The petite replica was spared no expense, featuring sky blue and strawberry-coloured enamel, rose cut Diamonds, rock crystal windows, platinum tyres, and diamond encrusted imperial eagles. The replica could fully move, with c-spring shock absorbers and a tiny folding step chair.
Like many of the jewelled surprises of former and later Easter eggs, these were lost in time. Yet it was believed that an Emerald pendant was awaiting the Empress inside the coach.
After the revolution of 1917, the coronation egg was was purchased by Wartski in 1927. Although the egg was sold to collector Charles Parsons in 1934, it was later re-acquired by Wartski, and remained in the company until 1979. The coronation egg was also in the nine eggs purchased by Viktor Vekselberg.
Lilies of the Valley Egg, 1898
More than just pretty in pink, the Lilies of the Valley Egg was a superb creation. Overtly Art Nouveau in style, the entirety of the egg is smothered in Pearl and Diamond Lily of the Valleys, which was the Tsarina’s favourite flower.
The base of the egg is covered in a sweet saccharine pink enamel, and the egg stands on four Diamond cabriolet feet. Green enamelled leaves and Gold flowers set with Pearls, Rubies and Diamonds complete the floral display.
The egg’s surprise is three elevated miniature portraits of Tsar Nicholas II and their two eldest daughters Grand Duchess Olga and Grand Duchess Tatiana.
In comparison to the other Easter eggs, little is known about the provenance of this piece. Yet, it was recorded as being sold to Malcolm Forbes in 1979 and was also within the collection of Viktor Vekselberg.
Bouquet of Lilies Clock, 1899
Bouquet of Lilies Clock Egg, c.1899, Source - Wikimedia Commons
One of the larger Fabergé Easter eggs, this Easter egg is actually a clock! The body of the clock is outlined in Diamond studded stripes, and the belt of the dial is encased in white Enamel with twelve Diamond Roman numerals. The final extravagant touch is a bouquet of Madonna lilies carved from white Onyx crowning the piece.
Interestingly, in relation our blog post “Decoding the Victorian Flower Language: A Floriography Guide”, this Easter egg references the language of flowers. The Madonna lilies were a Victorian symbol of purity and innocence, yet the rose cut Diamonds at the centre of the lilies reference traditional symbols of love.
The surprise inside the egg was allegedly a ruby pendant with rose cut Diamonds.
Unlike other Easter eggs in this list, the Bouquet of Lilies clock was one of the few Fabergé eggs that never left Russia. Today, you can see this egg on display in the Kremlin Armoury Museum in Moscow.
Peacock egg, 1908
The peacock egg was a present to the Dowager Empress Maria Feodrovna, composed of Rock Crystal and gilt Silver wire. In comparison to the other Easter eggs, this egg may initially appear quite simplistic in style. Yet, the reason why this beauty has made it onto our favourite picks is due to the surprise.
In the middle of the egg was a mechanical Gold Enamel peacock in the branches of a Gold tree with enamelled and jewelled flowers. The peacock could be lifted from the tree, and when placed on the ground and wound up, the peacock strutted around, moving its head and fanning its feathers.
Apparently, the peacock itself took three years to create.
After the revolution, the peacock egg was sold to Wartski in London. In 1949, the egg was sold to Dr Maurice Sandoz and in 1955 the egg was donated to his Foundation Eduoard et Maurice Sandoz. Since its purchase, the egg has only been seen in public six times.
Bay Tree Egg, 1911
The Bay Tree Egg, c.1911, Source - Wikimedia Commons
Lastly, this final Easter egg was another gift to Nicholas II’s mother.
Inspired by a French 18th century creation of an automated singing bird, the bay tree egg consists of 325 Nephrite leaves, 110 opalescent white flowers, 25 Diamonds, 20 Rubies, 53 Pearls, 219 rose cut Diamonds and one large rose cut Diamond.
Yet, the charming and most endearing feature of this egg is when the clock automation is wound up, as a feathered bird appears flapping its wings and singing.
After being confiscated by the Russian Provisional Government in 1917, the egg was one of the nine bought by Warstki. In 1934, the egg was sold to Allan Gibson Hughes for £950 (today £68,438.68!), and then further sold through Sotheby's £1,650 in 1947. In 1965, the egg was sold to Malcolm Forbes for 35,000 dollars, and was eventually purchased by Viktor Vekselberg.
We hope you have enjoyed reading and learning about this fascinating part of Russian history! In fact, it just shows how important the history of jewellery is in relation to the rest of the world.
If you are based in the UK and you want to learn more about Fabergé and their gorgeous Easter eggs, we have discovered that the BBC Four is showing a documentary on Fabergé on Easter Monday at 9pm called “The World’s Most Beautiful Eggs: The Genius of Carl Fabergé”. We will eagerly be tuning in to watch and learn more about these incredible luxurious pieces - will you be joining us?
Love, Lillicoco xo