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The history of the Faberge Egg

More than a century after its creation, Faberge Eggs live on in history as symbols of immense wealth and power. First commissioned by the Imperial Russian family, these masterpieces were extremely rare — only 65 of these jewelled eggs were made. And when the monarchy was abolished in 1917, the House of Faberge stopped production.

Now in 2018, the Faberge Egg is again revived in its full splendour. Unveiled last Friday by Rolls-Royce and Faberge, the Spirit of Ecstasy Egg is the first of its kind with its contemporary design.

The piece — the size of an ostrich egg — is a fine skeletal frame of twelve rose-gold petals speckled with diamonds. Each petal sports amethyst wings, carefully hoisted on a white gold base with purple enamel.

A little surprise: Rolls-Royce’s Spirit of Ecstasy in rock crystal.

A lever concealed under the base triggers the mechanism which stretches out the amethyst arms to reveal its ‘surprise’ – a frosted rock crystal figurine of its namesake, the trusty companion of every Rolls-Royce car.

The automaton is also the most complicated ever seen on any Faberge egg, Rolls-Royce claims, which is probably why it took seven craftsmen two years to finish the piece.

Even with its intricate makings, the modern creation is hard to live up to the magnificent ‘imperial’ Eggs of yore.

Royal Lineage

Of the Faberge Eggs created before 1917, 50 are considered imperial creations for their associations with the Imperial Russian family. The imperial creations are considered the most elaborate Eggs ever made by the House of Faberge and enjoyed international fame. Sadly, only 43 imperial Eggs were recovered and the rest lost or destroyed.

The First Hen Egg, with ‘yolk’ and hen figurine. The surprises — a small crown and a ruby pendant — are missing.

The idea was first hatched in 1885 by Tsar Alexander III as an Easter gift for his wife. Called the First Hen, it was made of gold and covered in white enamel to resemble an actual egg. It’s a Russian Doll of surprises. The Egg ‘cracks’ open to reveal a matte gold ‘yolk’, which also opens to reveal a gold hen figurine (thus it’s name). In the figurine are the best gifts: a bejeweled replica of the Imperial crown of Russia and a ruby pendant, both lost in antiquity.

So enthralled was the tsarina by the masterpiece that Alexander III placed an order with the House of Faberge to create an Egg every Easter. It was a tradition his successor, Nicholas II, would carry on for his mother and wife.

From then, House of Faberge was given free reign with the design of each Egg. Designs were first conceptualised by the founder Peter Carl Faberge and executed by his goldsmiths.

While these Eggs are often seen as ostentatious displays of wealth, they contain personal stories for the family.

The Memory of Azov Egg with its surprise, a gold miniature of a ship mounted on a piece of aquamarine.

The Memory of Azov Egg, for example, pays homage to Nicholas II’s voyage to the East. Carved from a solid piece of green bloodstone, the Egg is decorated with gold rococo twirls and diamonds. The surprise inside is an impressive replica of Nicholas II’s ship Pamyat Azova (or Memory of Azov). Casted in gold and platinum, the ship is delicate metalwork set on aquamarine.

In another, the Lilies of the Valley Egg, reveals miniature painted portraits of Nicholas II and his issues ‘raised’ out from the piece with a push of a pearl button. Some contain miniature automatons, such as the Trans-Siberian Railway Egg which contains a small model of a steam train that can be wound up and run.

The most exquisite of all is the Moscow Kremlin Egg, the largest at 36 cm, depicting the Uspenski Cathedral where coronations were held. The Egg, which doubles as a music box, can be removed to reveal the detailed work done inside the Cathedral base.

A Legacy Pieced Together

The imperial Eggs came to an end in 1917, when the three hundred year-long monarchy was ousted violently from the city of St. Petersburg. They left behind their Eggs and with that, their legacy.

The Faberge Eggs were confiscated by the newly-formed Soviet Russian government — some of which were stolen in the process. Of the 47 that remain, many are missing the surprises that came with it. It is rare to come by an Imperial Egg reunited with the treasures it had hidden inside.

An unfinished imperial Faberge Egg made of blue glass and white crystal. It would have diamonds for stars and a clock inside.

Though few Eggs were commissioned by several deep-pocketed clients (think, the Rothschilds), none have quite matched up to that of the Imperial Eggs.

Today, the House of Faberge continues to make smaller versions of its famous Eggs as charms and pendants.  

While there’s a revival for the craft, the Imperial Eggs continue to steal the limelight as the ultimate objet d’art.


The history of the Faberge Egg

Jasmine Tay

Senior Writer

Jasmine Tay is the dining, culture and jewellery writer. She makes fine silver jewellery and causes mini-explosions in the kitchen when she can't afford fancy dinners. Sometimes she tells people what she thinks about art, and binges on the music of Danzig when they don’t agree.

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