Sat. Apr 20th, 2024
alert-–-they-inspired-the-russian-imperial-family-and-james-bond’s-octopussy-alike.-no-wonder-the-world’s-gone-mad-for-bejewelled-faberge-eggs-–-the-ultimate-royal-easter-gift,-writes-josie-goodbodyAlert – They inspired the Russian Imperial Family and James Bond’s Octopussy alike. No wonder the world’s gone mad for bejewelled Faberge Eggs – the ultimate royal Easter gift, writes JOSIE GOODBODY

Few treasures captivate the imagination quite like the Russian Imperial Easter Eggs. 

Steeped in history and craftsmanship, Fabergé Eggs have become synonymous with wealth and unparalleled beauty – the ultimate royal Easter gift. 

Their allure lies not only in their exquisite aesthetic but also in the mysterious stories that surround them and the tragedies that befell the Russian Imperial Family, who commissioned these jewel-adorned masterpieces from the  House of Fabergé in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Lilies of the Valley egg, displayed at an exhibition in the Kremlin

The Lilies of the Valley egg, displayed at an exhibition in the Kremlin

The Rose Trellis egg given as a gift to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna by Tsar Nicholas II of Russia on Easter day.

The Rose Trellis egg given as a gift to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna by Tsar Nicholas II of Russia on Easter day.

The Mosaic Egg by  Carl Faberge pictured in the Queens Gallery at Buckingham Palace.

The Mosaic Egg by  Carl Faberge pictured in the Queens Gallery at Buckingham Palace.

The Apple Blossom Easter Egg, part of the Faberge Collection

The Apple Blossom Easter Egg, part of the Faberge Collection

For centuries it has been a tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church to give painted porcelain, or natural chicken or duck, eggs as Easter gifts. 

In Western Europe, gem-set eggs have been given by Royal and aristocratic families since the 1700s; but in February 1885 Emperor Alexander III commissioned, the then relatively unknown Carl Fabergé, to create an egg for his beloved Empress, Maria Feodorvna. 

Fabergé took as inspiration an early 18th century egg, The Hen Egg that belonged to the Danish Royal Family.

Maria was a Danish princess by birth and had had a happy carefree childhood in Denmark.

 On first glance the first egg appears as a simple enamel and gold ornament, but on opening it sat a gold chicken which itself held, as its ‘surprise’ a ruby pendant. The ‘surprises’ became and more clever and sumptuous – as did the eggs themselves. 

When Alexander died in 1894, his son Nicholas II became Tsar and continued the tradition, giving both his mother and his wife, Tsarina Alexandra, until the fall of the Imperial family in 1917 . 

Indeed the final egg, for that year, was never delivered. In total fifty eggs were made, which were then confiscated by the Bolsheviks and then sold, or indeed broken up.

It wasn’t until the Revolution and horrific assassinations  of the Romanovs in 1917, that these beautiful eggs became known outside the palaces in which they had been housed since May 1885.

The Imperial Eggs were sent to the Kremlin Armory Museum. 

They were subsequently sold and dispersed throughout the world via various ‘sales’ people, who had managed to create an element of trust with the then authorities and given pick of the Faberge treasures. 

One of the most important of whom Emanuel Snowman, the son-in-law of Morris Wartski – whose jewellery shop had been in Llandudno since 1865. 

However it was his son Kenneth, who became the real expert and curated the first Faberge exhibition in the UK in 1977, to mark Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee – also at the V&A, which had queues of excited visitors desperate to get in.

The global hunt for Imperial Faberge Eggs has become like something from a Bond film. Indeed the plot of Octopussy is based on the smuggling of a fake Faberge Egg – the prop for which was created by Asprey.

In the past decade or so, the eggs that survived  have achieved astronomical values at auctions: prices that soar into the millions, attracting collectors from around the globe.

Out of the 50 created, there are now seven unaccounted for and not known to have been destroyed. Not long ago, that number was eight. 

The rediscovery of the 1887 Third Imperial Egg was thanks, again, to Wartski director Kieran McCarthy who had been contacted by a MidWestern scrap dealer in the United States. 

The dealer had bought the egg at a fair and was planning to melt it down – until McCarthy proved it was indeed an Imperial Egg.

It later sold for $33m.

From Russian oligarchs to royal families, the allure of owning a Fabergé egg is never ending. Names like Viktor Vekselberg, who gifted the nine Imperial Eggs that he bought from another collector, Malcom Forbes, to his country – Russia. 

King Charles III, who inherited the three that are in the British Royal Collection, on the death of his mother, that had been bought by his great-grandmother Queen Mary, who was very passionate about Faberge and collecting their extraordinary treasures.

The V&A Museum’s 2021 – 2022 exhibition of Fabergé eggs was the first and probably the last time that so many of these exquisite artifacts were brought back together.

The Swan Egg and the swan surprise it contains were featured at the 2021 'Faberge in London: Romance To Revolution' exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum

The Swan Egg and the swan surprise it contains were featured at the 2021 ‘Faberge in London: Romance To Revolution’ exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum

The Alexander Palace Egg, featuring watercolour portraits of the children of Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra and containing a model of the palace inside

The Alexander Palace Egg, featuring watercolour portraits of the children of Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra and containing a model of the palace inside

The Basket of Flowers egg by Peter Carl Faberge Forms pictured in the Queens Gallery at Buckingham Palace

The Basket of Flowers egg by Peter Carl Faberge Forms pictured in the Queens Gallery at Buckingham Palace

As Kieran McCarthy, curator of the V&A exhibition and world expert (who discovered the missing Third Imperial Egg in 2012), explains: ‘Fabergé eggs possess a magical quality that transcends mere materialism, they are a childlike treasure with a magical surprise inside. 

‘Each egg is a testament to the skill and ingenuity of the artisans who painstakingly brought them to life. 

‘From the delicate filigree work to the vibrant enamel detailing and the setting of the gemstones, every aspect of a Fabergé egg speaks to the passion and dedication of its creator, and the two women for whom they were made, where luxury knew no bounds.’