THE LEGACY OF THE HOUSE OF FABERGÉ starts with the magnificent Fabergé Egg, which firmly established the brand as one of the most sought-after in the early 20th century. Fabergé Eggs were originally crafted every year from 1885 to 1916 (except 1904 and 1905) by Peter Carl Fabergé, court jeweller of the Romanov Dynasty, as Easter gifts to be presented by Russian tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II to their wives and mothers. Each piece, a work of exquisite craftsmanship and mechanical ingenuity, revealed a delightful surprise.
The first Imperial Egg to be crafted was the Hen Egg in solid gold. Its opaque enameled shell opened to reveal a matte-yellow gold yolk, which hid a multi-coloured gold hen. (This opened up further to show a tiny replica of the Imperial crown from which dangled a ruby egg, though these two objets have been lost over time.) The Egg is today a part of the Viktor Vekselberg Collection, housed in the Fabergé Museum in St Petersburg, Russia.
The Coronation Egg (1897) was a translucent lime-yellow enamel piece, criss-crossed with gold leaves, a gold imperial double-headed eagle at each intersection, and a large diamond set on top of the egg. It opened to reveal a replica, less than four inches long, of the 18th-century Imperial coach that carried Tsarina Alexandra to her coronation. There was also the Lilies of the Valley Egg (1898), a superlative pink enamel piece bedecked with pearl lilies, from which rose an enamel painting of Tsar Nicholas and his two daughters.
What made the pieces exceptional was their intricacy; often worked upon for a year, these handcrafted, mechanised works of art were unheard of at the time. A total of 50 Imperial Eggs were crafted, apart from those commissioned by the Duchess of Marlborough, the Rothschild family, and the Yusupovs, a Russian noble family.
After the Russian Revolution, Peter Carl Fabergé fled to Paris with his family; many of the Imperial Eggs were sent to the Russian Armory and eventually sold for foreign currency. Of the 50 Imperial Eggs, seven were lost. The remaining ones are either parts of private collections like that of Viktor Vekselberg (who has several), or at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Krelim Armoury, and the Edouardo and Maurice Sandoz Foundation in Switzerland.
Though today Fabergé Eggs are no longer actively created, they remain an important part of the brand’s lexicon. In 2015, to commemorate a centenary of the last Imperial Egg being delivered, Fabergé collaborated with the Al-Fardan family of Doha (one of the oldest and most successful traditional pearl merchants in the Gulf) to unveil the Pearl Egg, which was inspired by the formation of a pearl in the oyster. The Lady Compliquée watch, also launched that year, had two dial versions, inspired by the Peacock Egg (1908) and the Winter Egg (1913). And the egg motif can be widely found today on the brand’s pendants, earrings, charms, and cufflinks.
“To me, it is the bond between the giver and the receiver of a Fabergé creation,” says Sean Gilbertson, CEO, Fabergé, about the draw of the eggs. “Geza von Habsburg, curatorial director at Fabergé, describes the giver and receiver looking knowingly at one another and smiling, as if to say: ‘Yes, you and I both know just what this is’.” ■