Found around the world and extremely valuable, Faberge eggs are elaborately decorated Easter eggs that can be traced back to the whimsy of Russians czars and czarinas. Faberge eggs are known for their elaborate details and artwork on the outside of the eggs, but also for the breathtaking trinkets that were included inside the egg’s shell.
History of the Faberge Easter Eggs
Faberge eggs date back to 1885, when Czar Alexander III and Czarina Maria Feodorovna of Russia were celebrating their twentieth anniversary. The czarina had recently become interested in the works of the up and coming jeweler Peter Carl Faberge, and seeing how the czarina was falling in love with Faberge’s creations, Alexander III ordered an elaborately decorated Easter egg to give to his wife on Easter morning.
In the Russian Orthodox tradition, Easter is one of the most important holidays on the church calendar. Easter is seen as a time for renewed hope and life, and it is tradition that families gather to exchange elaborate Easter eggs following church services on Easter morning. Eggs were also accompanied by three kisses, says The Link of Times Foundation, and the greeting, “Christ is Risen!” These eggs were often colored red, but some were decorated in various motifs and were meant to be kept and displayed year after year.
On the morning of Easter 1885, Faberge delivered the egg ordered by the czar to the palace so it could be presented to the czarina following the day’s religious services. Faberge’s creation appeared to be a simple, enameled egg, but once the czarina opened the egg, she found that it contained a golden yolk. The egg contained more surprises, because inside the golden yolk Faberge had hidden a tiny golden hen, and within the golden hen he had hidden a diamond replica of the czarina’s crown and a small ruby egg. Unfortunately, according to PBS, the diamond crown and the ruby egg have since been lost to history, but the egg, yolk, and hen still exist as a part of the Russian archives.
The Link of Times Foundation reports that Alexander III may have ordered the egg as a replica of the Hen Eggs found in the royal treasury of Denmark. The Danish version of these eggs each contained a small hen inside, and inside each hen was a crown that contained a ring made of jewels. About three of these original Danish eggs are still in existence today, one at the Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen, Denmark; another at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria; and the third in the Private Collection at the Green Vaults in Dresden, Germany.
After Alexander III saw how Maria Feodorovna was enamored with the egg he bought as her Easter gift, Alexander commissioned that Faberge continue to make eggs for his wife for Easter each year. The only specifications were that each egg had to be completely unique, and that the egg’s contents had to be fit for the czarina. Even after Alexander III’s death in 1894, his son Nicholas continued the tradition of presenting his mother with a unique Easter egg created by Faberge each year, and also commissions eggs for his wife, Alexandra Feodorovna.
By the time Czar Nicholas II fell from power, Faberge had created between fifty and fifty-six eggs for the Russian royal family, now known as the Imperial Eggs. Each egg is a unique creation and become increasingly elaborate with each new egg that was created, with one egg containing a family photo collection.
Faberge’s Easter Eggs Today
Today, the Imperial Eggs are scattered among art collectors and museums around the world, with eight of the eggs believed to have been lost since their removal from royal collections. According to Forbes magazine, the largest private collection of Faberge eggs was held by the family of the late Forbes publisher Malcolm Forbes, who had collected nine of the eggs, including the Coronation Egg, one of the most well-known of the Faberge eggs that contains a tiny carriage as the surprise inside the egg.
The Forbes family sold the collection of eggs at auction in 2014 to Victor Vekselberg, a Russian energy businessman. The Forbes collection was listed at a pre-auction price of $80 to $120 million USD.
Additionally, ten of the Imperial Eggs are at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, while another five of the eggs are on display at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia. The other known collection of original Faberge eggs is owned by Queen Elizabeth, who has three eggs.
In 2008, Faberge announced that it would begin creating the famed elaborate eggs once again after not producing an egg for almost a century. The announcement did not include who had commissioned the egg or design details, but representatives from Faberge said that it would be released within a year of the announcement.
Known for their intricate artwork and elaborate mechanical designs, the eggs created by Faberge for the Russian royal family have become well-known pieces of art around the world. Once created as a gift for a czar’s wife, today they are a hallmark of a Russia that dates back over a century.