Did you say Fabergé?
A very Russian institution
The St. Petersburg metro is often praised for its beauty but it is also a place full of little stores, nooks and crannies which I found myself looking at yesterday. About everything and anything can be found there from a kitten calendar and the newest Russian romance novels to pens, newspapers and various sized matryoshkas. As I was making my way home, one particular object caught my eye: a beautiful round egg covered in crystals containing a little reproduction of the Church of the Savior on spilled blood. I had now found the subject of my first post and I made my way home determined to uncover more about these famous eggs.
Fabergé eggs are known all over the world for their beauty and – mostly – for the high price private collectors are ready to spend to call it theirs. Indeed, with only fifty imperial eggs ever produced between 1885 and 1916 and seven still lost as of today, they are not only rare but mostly hardly ever make it to the market making them a true collector’s dream!
The House of Fabergé is a Russian institution that started in this very city, St. Petersburg. In 1882, Peter Carl Fabergé, the creator of the famous eggs, took over his father’s jewelry business and it rapidly evolved into an international sensation. He was then – and still is – known for his jewels and little decorative objects that were purchased and worn by the Russian, American and European elites of the time.
The famous Fabergé eggs
This post will mostly focus on the famous Fabergé eggs which – once studied more closely – convey an extraordinary amount of history.
It all started in 1885, when Tsar Alexander III ordered one for his beloved wife, Tsarina Maria Feodorovna. This Easter present was so well received that the Tsar immediately commissioned another one for the following year and a tradition was born that was to be continued by his son, tsar Nicholas II, who gifted them to his wife and mother. These “Imperial Easter eggs” became extremely famous and Fabergé was rapidly commissioned by private clients of great financial means such as the Duchess of Marlborough or by Dr. Emanuel Nobel, nephew of the famous Alfred Nobel to craft similar ones.
The very first Imperial egg, known as the First Hen or Jeweled Hen egg, was very simple in its design. Over the years, they became much more intricate and elaborate revealing the true genius of its designer who enjoyed complete artistic freedom from the Tsar. Each one tells a different story of the Romanov family and contains a delicately crafted object known as a “surprise”.
As it is impossible to review all fifty imperial eggs in the scope of one article, I will briefly tell the unique story of my favorite three.
1. Third Imperial Egg of 1887
The Third Imperial Egg is not only beautiful but has been through quite an adventure which I’d like to share with you. It had been lost for over a century after having been confiscated by the Bolsheviks. Somehow, it had made its way to the United States and was now owned by a scraps metals dealer who had purchased it at a flea market in order to resell its various components. But, incapable of finding anyone ready to pay more than he had to acquire it, he had kept the egg at his home for over a decade. One day he found an article online about the famously lost third Imperial Egg and immediately headed to London to meet its author with some pictures. The specialist then came to the Midwest and made a positive authentication. To the fortune of this metal scraps dealer, the egg was later auctioned off for about 20 million £in 2014.
2. Coronation Egg of 1897
The Coronation Egg commemorates the Coronation day of Tsar Alexander II. This masterpiece is covered in gold, different types of enamel as well as diamonds. Like most Fabergé Eggs, a surprise is to be found inside: an exact replica of the Coronation coach which took its author over a year to complete!
3. Red Cross with Imperial Portraits of 1915
The Red Cross with Imperial Portraits is one of the more “modest” eggs given the period it was made in and is composed of enamel, silver and gold. Its surprise consists of five miniature portraits of women of the Romanov House in a Red Cross uniform. But why would an imperial egg portray members of the Tsar’s family in such a uniform one might ask? The reason lies in the fact that Maria Feodorovna, the mother of Tsar Nicholas II, was not only president of the Red Cross until her death but also served with it during the Russo-Turkish war as well as a trainee nurse in the first world war along with her older daughters. During that war, some of the Imperial palaces were even converted into hospitals.
One can now see how each of these eggs not only conveys its own personal story as illustrated with the Third Imperial Egg, but also and most importantly commemorates a specific moment in the Imperial family’s life.
Unfortunately, The Fabergé’s had to flee the country during the Russian Revolution and their business was nationalized before being later sold multiple times.
As of today, the Fabergé trademark still exists and was officially relaunched in 2009 as a high-end jeweler. Stores can now be found in cities such as London, Dubai and Paris.
The Fabergé museum
If this article spoke to you and you’d like to know more about the particular history and genius of the Fabergé House I would highly recommend you take a look at the Fabergé museum located in the beautiful Shuvalov Palace only 5 minutes away from the Liden & Denz St. Petersburg campus.