In 1885, Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia received what appeared to be a simple egg made of white enamel. Maria would later discover that this egg held a startling surprise that would usher in the era of one of the most sought-after, luxury jewellers in the world.
The first Fabergé egg
The 'First Hen' Fabergé Egg
Guy Fawkes / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)
The egg Empress Maria received from her husband Tsar Alexander III was none other than the first Fabergé egg. The first layer of the egg contained soft gold, with a solid gold hen inside, and inside that, a ruby pendant which has now been lost. It is perhaps of no surprise that through the tumultuous fortunes of the Russian Royal family throughout the 1890s, that this ruby was not the only Fabergé treasure to go missing. In fact, out of the 50 royal Easter eggs commissioned by Alexander and then his son, Peter, 6 are still at large in the world, waiting to be found.
The rise of Fabergé
The Kremlin and museums all over the world wish to showcase one of these extraordinary miniature masterpieces of gold and precious stones. Out of the 50 made only 44 are accounted for and the whereabouts of the other 6 are only rumoured. Here’s what we know so far….
After the revolution of 1917 Fabergé was nationalised by the Bolsheviks. As revolution swept through the lives of the upper classes, palaces in Moscow and St Petersburg were seized and precious eggs and jewels by Fabergé were stored in the basement of the Kremlin. Originally protected by Lenin as part of Russia’s cultural legacy, eventually, some eggs were secretly traded for much needed western cash in the Stalinist era. The eggs were not always valued highly, having been associated with the Romanovs the priceless jewels were relatively cheap to obtain, some selling for just a few hundred dollars in the 1930s.
Around 15 years ago, in a flea market in America, an opportunist looking for scrap gold to melt down chanced upon an egg-shaped item with a watch inside it. Paying a modest $14,000 he was only stopped in his crime against art when he chanced upon an article in a well-known British newspaper that revealed this particular egg, the 1887 Easter gift from Alexander to Maria, was missing. This lucky find was now worth $20 million and neither the seller nor buyer have revealed their identities yet.
The missing Fabergé eggs
There are a few Fabergé eggs that are ‘lost’ right now and could be resting in a dusty attic, found in your local flea market or even in the depths of a country house vault sold after the Second World War. Here is what you should be looking for:
The 1888 ‘Cherub with Chariot’ egg
All that remains is a sketchy photograph and there have been no reports of its whereabouts since 1917.
The 1889 ‘Necessaire’ egg
This egg included women’s manicure kits inside as a gift. This egg was sold at auction in London in 1952 and has never been seen since. The identity of the buyer has also remained a firm secret.
The 1897 ‘Mauve’ egg
Viktor Vekselberg has the egg’s surprise in his collection of 15 Fabergé eggs. He has the largest single owned collection in the world. Vekselberg’s collection went on public display in 2013 in Saint Petersburg in his own ‘Fabergé Museum’. The Mauve egg, however, is still at large.
The 1886 ‘Hen with Sapphire Pendant’
Nothing is known about this egg, except that is was very dear to Empress Maria Feodorovna. In style, it may have been similar to the first Fabergé Easter egg.
The Danish Jubilee Fabergé Egg
The 1903 ‘Royal Danish Egg’
This egg contained miniature portraits of Empress Maria’s parents. The egg is made of light blue and white enamel with gold and precious stones. The egg is decorated with symbols of Danish royalty such as lions and elephants.
The Alexander III Commemoration Egg
The 1909 Alexander III Commemorative Egg
The egg commemorates Alexander III of Russia who had dies 15 years before. It is a Jewelled and enamel egg that contains a surprise of a bust of Alexander III made of solid gold.
If you want to get to know your Fabergé from your fakes then the Fabergé Museum in Moscow is the perfect place to start your research, and who knows, soon you could be a millionaire!