The Lost Imperial Fabergé Eggs
The bejeweled eggs crafted by the House of Fabergé between 1885 and 1917 have become synonymous with luxury and ostentatiousness, and for good reason. Indeed, was there ever a more exquisite gift given by a husband to his wife than that first egg, presented to Czarina Maria Feodorovna by her husband, Czar Alexander III of Russia, in the Easter of 1885? Designed by the in-demand jeweler and goldsmith Peter Carl Fabergé, the egg was encrusted with plain white enamel. Upon opening it, however, Maria was dazzled to find that the yolk was made completely from gold, and the surprises didn’t stop there. Inside the yolk was a golden hen, adorned with ruby eyes and, inside that, a miniature, diamond-encrusted replica of the Romanov crown, alongside a second, tiny egg fashioned from ruby.
The Czarina’s joy persuaded the Czar to commission Fabergé to create a new egg each year, thus beginning an Easter tradition that he would pass on to his son Czar Nicholas II. Each year, the egg would be more luxurious than the last. So much so, that it became a full-time job for Fabergé. He was installed as the official goldsmith of the Russian Imperial Court and was soon employing around 500 artisans as he looked to keep the autocrat and his family happy. What really delighted Alexander and Maria was the element of surprise, and Peter Karl was happy to deliver. As well as miniature hens, some eggs contained small (golden) trains or jewel-encrusted portraits of the Royal Family. And then, there was the Winter Egg, the most opulent of them all.
However, these were troubled times for Russia. In 1917, revolution rocked the country, with the Romanov dynasty brought to a crashing end. In 1918, the Bolsheviks, working to establish their own dictatorship, had Czar Nicholas II and his family executed. Fabergé himself managed to escape to Switzerland, though his workshop was taken from him, with countless treasures ‘nationalized’. The eggs themselves were packed up and hidden away in an obscure corner of the Kremlin, destined to be forgotten.
It was only the financial needs of the Communist state that led to the treasures seeing the light of day again. Stalin, needing funds to consolidate his grip on power, decided to auction the eggs off on the international market. Unsurprisingly, they were snapped up, not just by wealthy private individuals but also by public collections and even by the British royal family. Not all of them were purchased, however. Of the 50 Imperial Fabergé Eggs, 43 have been accounted for. And the rest? Who knows?
The good news for treasure hunters is that the Third Imperial Egg was identified as recently as 2014. It had been purchased by a scrap metal dealer a few years previously. What he believed to be a novelty item worth a few hundred dollars turned out to be worth around $33 million. Who knows where the other eggs, among them the Sapphire Pendant, crafted in 1886, the Cherub with Chariot, made in 1888, or the Royal Danish of 1903 will turn up?