What is Faberge Egg? -- The World's Most Expensive Easter Eggs from Russia

Faberge eggs

You’ve probably heard of Faberge egg, which is a kind of jeweled egg made of precious metals and hard stones, but not to be confused with surprise eggs. According to the definition from Wikipedia: “A Fabergé egg is a jewelled egg created by the jewellery firm House of Fabergé, in Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire. ”

For over a century, the name Faberge egg has evoked wealth, opulence and the world's most extravagant Easter eggs. But do you know about their history with the Russian Revolution?

The History of Faberge Eggs

Little more hardcore than you were expecting, the most famous ones were technically Easter eggs, yes, this egg, like many others, was given as a gift on Easter. They were Easter gifts made by the house of Fabergé for the Imperial Russian royal family, including the last members of the Romanov dynasty who were executed during the Russian Revolution in 1918.

Peter Carl Faberge was a Russian jeweler descended from the French Huguenots who kept fleen eastward to escape religious persecution. He was born in Saint Petersburg in 1846, then after his father's death, he took over the family jewelry firm in 1882.

In 1885 the company was commissioned by Tsar Alexander III to create an Easter Egg for his wife Empress Maria Feodorovna, who had spent her early years as a Danish princess before leaving Copenhagen to marry him and become a Russian Empress.

The First Faberge Egg -- Hen Egg

The first Faberge egg is probably a little bit more subdued than you were expecting -- the Hen egg, which was commissioned by Tsar Alexander III, who presented it to his wife Empress Maria.

 First Faberge Egg

The hen egg was made of gold and encased in a white enamel shell. When opened, a golden yolk is revealed containing a bejewelled hen. This in turn can be opened up and once revealed miniature “imperial crown” in gold and diamonds, with a ruby pendant at its centre. The materials were costly but the magical surprise was priceless.

After the success of this initial gift, Faberge was given complete artistic freedom, with the single condition that each egg should contain a surprise. When Alexander III died, the tradition was continued by his son. In fact, he doubled the order so he could present one each to his wife and mother.

 The Faberge eggs are world renowned today, synonymous with the Romanovs lavish lifestyle, but at the time hardly anyone outside the royal court knew they existed. During the Bolsheviks February Revolution the eggs were taken from the palace and carefully packed and stashed at the Kremlin in Moscow.

 The Russian government later sold many of them when it ran low on funds. Although there are believed to be close to 70 eggs created today, only 46 Imperial eggs and 11 other eggs are known to survive. Now let’s check out 10 most beautifully crafted Faberge eggs and understand why they are special and expensive.

10 Most Beautifully Crafted Faberge Eggs

1. “The Coronation Egg” from 1897

The Imperial Coronation Egg was commissioned in 1897 to commemorate Sarina Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.

 The Coronation Egg

The egg is made from gold with translucent lime yellow enamel on a guilloche field of starbursts, it is in reference to the cloth of gold robe worn by the Serena to coronation. It is trellised with bands of greenish gold laurel leaves mounted at each intersection by a gold Imperial double-headed eagle enameled opaque black, and set with a rose diamond on its chest. This pattern was also drawn from the coronation robe worn by the Empress.

 The Coronation Faberge Egg

Fitted inside a velvet lined compartment is a precise replica less than 4 inches long of the 18th century imperial coach that carried Tsarina Alexandra to her coronation at Moscow Cathedral.

The red color of the original coach was recreated using strawberry colored translucent enamel and the blue upholstery of the interior was also reproduced in enamels. The coaches surmounted by the imperial crown in Rose diamonds and six double-headed Eagles on the roof.

It is fitted with engraved rock crystal windows and platinum tires decorated with a diamond set trellis and gold, and an imperial eagle and diamonds at either door.

Missing surprises include an emerald or diamond pendant that hung inside the replica coach, a glass-enclosed jadeite stand for the display of the carriage as well as a stand made of silver gilt wire.

The egg is currently owned by one of the Russian oligarchs Fichter Vekselberg and lends it to the hermitage museum, specifically the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg Russia, where it originally belongs.

Then 1918 after the death of the Romanovs, the house of Fabergé was nationalized and ransacked by the Bolsheviks. Faberge and members of his family left Russia on what was to be the last diplomatic train to Riga, not realizing that they would never be able to return to their beloved Russia again.

2. “The Mosaic Egg” from 1914

The mosaic egg is a jeweled enameled Easter egg, crafted by Albert Holmstrom, under the supervision of Peter Carl Faberge.

 The Mosaic Egg

It is made of yellow gold platinum, brilliant diamonds, rose cut diamonds, ruby emerald, topaz, sapphire, garnet, half pearls, moonstone, wide enamel and opaque pink enamel. It consists of a series of yellow gold belts which are paved set with diamonds and a variety of gems in a floral pattern, providing a look of petit point tapestry work.

The pattern of the egg contains five oval panels bordered by half pearl set in enamel, with brilliant diamonds placed at each intersection. The technical precision of the design was complemented by platinum that was cut rather than welded. At the apex of the egg is a moonstone through which can be seen the year 1914 and Empress Alexandra 's initials in Russian characters.

The surprise is a removable miniature frame with relief profiles of Nicholas and Alexandra’s five children in a cameo brooch style.The back of the frame is enameled with a sepia basket of flowers. The floral tapestry pattern was designed by Alma Therasia Pihl who was inspired by needlework fire screens found in the Resta Craddock sitting rooms of the time. Pihl was the niece of the eggs work master Albert Holmstrom, who came from a family of finished jewelers employed by Faberge.

Currently the Mosaic Egg remains a part of the Royal Collection of Queen Elizabeth and was included in a public display from July to October 2011 and the exhibit Royal Faberge during the summer opening of Buckingham Palace.

3. “The Peacock Egg” from 1908 

The beautiful peacock egg commissioned in 1908. It is a jeweled and rock crystal Easter egg made by Dorofyev under the supervision of the Russian jeweler Peter Carl Faberge.

 The Peacock Egg

The transparent egg is compost of rock crystal, and gilt silver wire and is quite simple in style. The genius of the egg lay in its surprise. The egg is held together by a clasp at the top, when opened, it falls into two halves, each with a Rococo style mount.

Inside the egg sits a small 110 millimeters 4.3 inch long mechanical golden enameled peacock, in the branches of an engraved gold tree with flowers made of enamel and precious stones. The peacock can be lifted from within the tree and wound up. Placed on a flat surface, it struts around, moving its head, spreads and closes his enamel tail.  

The Peacock Egg was inspired by the 18th century peacock clock made by James Cox, the clock was a present from Grigory Potemkin to Catherine the Great. The peacock clock was housed in the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg Russia, which is now the Hermitage Museum.

In 1927, the Peacock Egg was sold with nine other Imperial eggs by the antiquaria to Emmanuel snowman in London bought by Mr. Hirst in 1935. It was sold to Dr. Maurice Sandoz of Switzerland in 1949 and donated in 1955 to his foundation at Dr.Maurice and OHS in Lausanne Switzerland. Since it’s purchased by Sandoz, it has only been seen publicly 6 times, the last time in 2009.

4. “Twelve Monograms Egg” from 1896

The Twelve Monograms Egg also known as the Alexander III portraits egg, it is an Easter egg made under the supervision of the Russian jeweler Peter Carl Faberge in 1896, for Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. It was presented by Nicholas II to his mother the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna.

 Twelve Monograms Egg

The egg was the second Faberge egg ever given by Nicholas II to his mother as an Easter present. This egg is one of four commemorating Tsar Alexander the third, the other three are the missing Empire nephrite 1902, Alexander the third commemorative 1909 eggs, the Alexander the third equestrian egg 1910.

An allegedly missing Faberge egg known from its description as the Alexander III portraits egg was previously thought to be the Imperial Easter egg from 1895 in the Maria Feodorovna series. Currently the egg is held at the Hillwood Museum in Washington DC.

5. “Winter Easter Egg” from 1913

Perhaps the most sumptuous Easter gift ever given as the winter Easter egg. Presented by Tsar Nicholas II to his mother, the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna in 1913. The exquisite Faberge winter egg was the rarest and most expensive produced by the Imperial jeweller.

 Winter Easter Egg

The egg is made of transparent rock crystal, delicately engraved on the inside to recreate the effect of ice crystals, and contains a surprise. Its exterior is encrusted with 3,000 diamonds set in platinum, and the whole thing rests on a detachable rock crystal base, carved to represent a block of melting ice, set with rose diamond regulates inside.

The hidden surprise is a delicate trellis work-basket fashioned in platinum, and filled with a tiny bouquet of flowers carved from white quartz, and set with green garnet hearts.

The egg left Russia after the Revolution and ended up in the collection of Mr. Brian. It was first sold at auction in 1994 at Christie's in Geneva for 5.6 million dollars, the world record at that time for a Faberge item sold at auction. The eggs sold for 9.6 million dollars in an auction at Christie's in New York City in 2002. The current value of the winter egg on the market was estimated to be 60 million dollar way back in 2017.

6. “The Third Imperial Egg” from 1887

The Third Imperial Egg is an Easter Faberge egg created in the workshop of Peter Carl Faberge, for the Russian Tsar Alexander III and presented to his wife Maria Feodorovna on Orthodox Easter of 1887.

 The Third Imperial Egg

The egg was created in Louis XVI style and it consists of a solid 18k gold with a case resting on a gold annulus ring with waveform decorations, held up by 3 sets of quarter lakh legs which end in Lions paws.

Joining these legs are festoons of roses and leaves, made in a variety of colored gold alloys and joined in the middle of each side by matching oval cabbage and sapphires. Above each sapphire is a gold bow decorated with a series of tiny diamonds.

The front of the egg has a single much larger diamond in an old mine diamond clasp which when pressed releases the eggs, lit to reveal its surprise.

The egg was lost for many years but was rediscovered in 2012. As evidence of its journey, the egg has several scratches on it where the metal was tested for its gold content by prospective buyers. The new buyer thought they enhanced the piece because they are part of its history.

7. “Fifteenth Anniversary Egg” from 1911

Before the fall he celebrated the 15th anniversary of his rule, Faberge would commemorate this historic moment with a distinctive egg ever. If there is one Imperial Easter gift that definitively demonstrates a close link between Faberge and the Tsar, it is the 15th Anniversary Egg. Presented to Alexandra in 1911, it celebrates Nicholas II decade and a half on the throne.

 Fifteenth Anniversary Egg

The egg is made of gold green and white enamel, decorated with diamonds and rock crystal. The surface is divided into 18 panels set with 16 miniatures. The miniatures are painted on ivory by artist Vasily Zayed from photographs and drawings at the time.

Among the nine views of places and events associated with Nicholas's reign are the coronation procession, the coronation ceremony, the opening of the state duma, a legislative body, the Alexander III bridge in Paris, and the canonization of St. Sarafine to whom Alexandra prayed for a son.

The eggs incredibly detailed artwork is all the more impressive when one realizes that these panels are each less than two inches across. The egg is evidence that Nicholas has much to celebrate in 1911. There is no surprise in the egg contrary to the Tsar's explicit instructions with regard to these eggs and without explanation apparently none was ever made.

It was owned by Malcolm Forbes in the Forbes collection. Viktor Vekselberg purchased nine Imperial eggs as part of the collection for almost 100 million dollars. It is estimated that the individual egg costs 10 million dollars to 15 million dollars. The egg is now part of the Viktor Vekselberg collection owned by the link of times foundation and housed in the Faberge Museum in Saint Petersburg Russia.

8. “Gatchina Palace Egg” from 1901

Gatchina Palace Egg is a jeweled enameled Easter egg made in 1901. Nicholas II presented it to his mother the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna at Easter in 1901. The egg opens to reveal a faithful rendering of the palace Maria called home.

 Gatchina Palace Egg

The egg was created by Faberge work master Michael Perkhin and the detail of the Gatchina Palace egg is stunning. At a mere 3 inches tall the cannons windows trees and flag of the palace are clearly distinguishable.

The exterior of the egg is skillfully crafted of gold enamel silver diamonds, rock crystal and series of pearls. These precious materials are individually treasured but using them together to create a single object makes them priceless. However what makes Faberge egg so valuable is not the monetary price of the materials but the skill and mastery of craftsmanship used to create it.

In 1920 the egg was in the possession of Alexander Polovtsov who was a former employee at the Gatchina Palace and later started an antique shop in Paris.

In 1930, this egg was sold along with the 1907 Rose Trellis Egg to American Henry Walters and became a part of the Walters Art Museum collection in 1931.

In 1936 the egg was exhibited with the Rose Trellis egg at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore Maryland and it has been on permanent display since 1952.

9. “Peter The Great Egg” from 1903

Peter The Great Egg was made in 1903 by Faberge, made in Rococo style. Peter The Great Egg celebrated the 200th anniversary of the founding of St. Petersburg in 1703. It is made of red green and yellow gold platinum rose cut diamonds, rubies enamel, rock crystal and miniature watercolor portraits on ivory.

 Peter The Great Egg

The eggshell features four miniature watercolors. The paintings representing the before and after of St. Petersburg in 1703 and 1903. The front painting features the extravagant Winter Palace the official residence of Nicholas II 200 years after founding of St. Petersburg. Opposite this on the back of the egg is a painting of the log cabin believed to be built by Peter the Great himself, representative of the founding of St. Petersburg on the banks of the Neva River.

The surprise is that when the egg is opened, a mechanism within raises a miniature gold model of Peter the Great’ monument on the Neva resting on a base of sapphire.

The Peter the Great Egg was sold in 1930 to Armand Hammer, an American entrepreneur who had business interests in Russia. In 1944 it was purchased by Lillian Pratt and proud of Fredericksburg Virginia and bequeathed to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in 1947. It remainds on Permanent view in their European decorative art collection.

10. “Standart Yacht Egg” from 1909

The Standart Yacht is a jeweled Easter egg made for Tsar Nicholas II of Russia in 1909. It was presented by Nicholas II as an Easter gift to his wife that’s Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna.

 Standart Yacht Egg

It is a transparent hollowed-out rock crystal egg mounted horizontally with a gold band with leaves of green enamel and small diamonds, marking the separation point between upper and lower halves which bears the inscription “Standart 1909”.

The Standart Yacht was commissioned by Tsar Alexander III in Copenhagen, it was launched in 1895 and was 116 meters long, which made it the largest yacht in the world at that time.

 Standart Yacht Egg

The Standart Yacht egg is currently held in the Kremlin Armory Museum in Moscow and it is one of the few Faberge eggs that have never left Russia.

Concludsion

There were thousands of Faberge pieces in the palaces of the Romanovs. Most now scattered across faraway lands in the many collections around the world now. Of the 50 Imperial eggs made only 10 remain in the Kremlin, 8 Imperial eggs are still missing.

The excess of the eggs and their seclusion from the public reflect the elitist out-of-touch final years of Tsarist Russia.They may be masterpieces route faber but they also embody extravagance that even the Romanovs most ardent supporter would find hard to justify.

Nowadays, there are so many Faberge inspired trinket boxes & necklaces in the market, some of the jewelry/ trinket boxes are made like Faberge egg style, some of the jewelry are made like Faberge nature theme style, people choose them as gift to their loved ones on special occasion. Whatever the Faberge inspired style people choose, I think they just admire the craftsmanship of the Faberge eggs which are beyond imagination.