We think it was for their twentieth anniversary that Czar Alexander III sought what would be the first Fabergé egg as a present for his wife, Empress Maria Federovna. It seems that Alexander’s inspiration for such a gift was a decorative egg belonging to his wife’s aunt, the princess of Denmark, which had dazzled Maria as a child. Thus the Czar commissioned the St. Petersburg jeweler House of Fabergé to create a precious and intriguing egg for Maria to have for herself. In turn, the jewelry house presented Alexander III with a hollow gold egg covered in white enamel. The shell opened to revel a yolk of yellow gold. In the “yolk” was a colorful gold hen. And inside the hen lay a teensy diamond replica of the Imperial Crown with a dangling ruby. (Unfortunately, the hen and the crown it swallowed have been lost.)
Empress Maria was so enthralled with her anniversary present that her husband appointed Fabergé to present them with a surprising egg treasure each Easter. The design of the year was always top secret until its unveiling–not even the Czar knew what he would get. The tradition continued into the reign of Nicholas II–an exquisite egg each year from 1885 to 1916 (except for 1904 and 1905 due to the Russo-Japanese War).
As the Imperial jeweler, the House of Fabergé’s popularity soared, and it expanded the Easter egg tradition into an annual commercial line of egg pendents to be given as Easter gifts. The pendents were worn on a necklace chain either alone or in groups of egg pendants much like a charm bracelet. Various nobles also commissioned the House to make them the larger treasure eggs. By this time, the St. Petersburg-based House employed 500 craftsmen and designers, and had locations in Moscow, Odessa and Kiev as well as in London.
Upon Nicholas’ abdication in 1917, Fabergé ceased to produce its famous eggs. The Czar and his family were executed a year later and Fabergé was nationalized by the Bolsheviks. Head of the House, Peter Carl Fabergé hopped the last train to Latvia, and when the Revolution reached there he fled for his life to Germany. Under cover of darkness through snowy woods, his wife and their eldest son escaped by foot and by sleigh to Finland. The son then joined his father, accompanying him to Switzerland in 1920 where Carl died. The Bolsheviks imprisoned the other two sons. Being that those two had been active in the family business, the Party used them as evaluators of the riches seized from the Imperial Family, aristocrats, merchants, and the House of Fabergé itself. One of the brothers managed to escape and joined the eldest, opening Fabergé et Cie in Paris. The other brother did not escape the, by then, USSR until 1927. He, his wife, son and four others rode a sledge by night across the frozen Gulf of Finland.
Here are the ten Fabergé eggs housed at the Kremlin Armoury.
This is one of the few eggs that has never left Russia. The diamond bedecked four-leaf clover inside-surprise has been lost, as have the inside-surprise miniature portraits of Alexander and Maria’s four daughters.
Commissioned by Alexander III, the Standart was the Imperial Family’s yacht. The largest yacht in the world at the time, it had a stable with cows so the royal children could have fresh milk during their vacations on the Baltic Sea. Nicholas II presented this Faberge egg with the Standart model to his wife, Czarina Alexandra Fedorovna. The model boat can be removed from the egg, making it the “surprise.”
Appropriately, this egg has always remained in Russia. The egg part contains a music box which plays two Easter hymns, one of them a favorite of Nicholas, who presented this to Alexandra in 1906.
In 1917, as they raided the Alexander Palace, Kerensky’s soldiers seized this egg from its place of display in Alexandra’s Mauve Sitting Room.
The Memory of Azov was a Navy ship upon which Alexander and Maria’s sons, Czarevich Nicholas and Grand Duke George were traveling in the Far East at the time. The royal couple intended for the trip to expand the future leaders’ horizons, and so the 1891 Easter egg was meant to commemorate the momentous turning point. But (after the reception of the egg) it turned out all the trip did was worsen George’s tuberculosis and get Nicholas wounded in the head from an assassination attempt in Japan. The Memory of the Azov was not one of their mother’s fondest eggs.
The train is a foot long and the cars are marked “mail,” “ladies only,” “smoking,” “non-smoking,” and “chapel.” The key makes it actually run! The 1900 Easter egg commemorated the Trans-Siberian Railway as it was almost complete at the time–a matter of great satisfaction to Nicholas, who had lain the foundation stone.
One of the few Imperial eggs that has never been sold, not to mention one of the last ever made.
The 1913 Easter egg celebrated the 300-year anniversary of Romanov rule, beginning in 1613 with Michael I. The portraits are of the eighteen Romanov czars. The surprise is a rotating globe. Half of the globe shows Russian territory under Michael I, the other half Russian territory under the then-present czar Nicholas II. In May 1913 Nicholas and Alexandra retraced Michael Romanov’s route to the throne, with tercentenary celebrations along the way. The Tercentenary egg was confiscated by the provisional government in 1917.
Not only has the Bouquet of Lilies Clock never left Russia, but it is one of the largest eggs, almost a foot tall. With its rose motifs and onyx-carved Madonna lilies, this egg–one of Nicholas’ Easter presents to Alexandra–symbolizes love and purity. The surprise is sadly missing–a ruby pendant with rose-cut diamonds.
From Russia with love.