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Decorating eggs has long been a tradition of Easter. They can be dyed or painted, glittered and stickered with symbols of the season. But the most fabulously decorated eggs of all are those of the House of Fabergé that were created for the Tsars of Russia in the late 1800’s. The very first egg was created for the Empress Maria Fedorovna in 1885 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of her marriage to Tsar Alexander III. Alexander gave the commission to create the special Easter Egg to Peter Carl Fabergé after Maria had admired his beautiful creations. The very first egg was presented to the Empress on Easter morning. It appeared on the outside to be a simple enameled egg, called “The Hen” but inside is a golden yolk; within the yolk is a golden hen; and concealed within the hen is a diamond miniature of the royal crown and a tiny ruby egg. The crown and the ruby egg have long been lost. The Empress was so delighted with the egg that the Tsar rewarded Fabergé with a commission for an Easter egg every year. The requirements are straightforward: each egg must be unique, and each must contain a suitable surprise for the Empress.
Alexander died unexpectedly in 1894 and his eldest son became Tsar Nicholas II. Nicholas, feeling unprepared to assume the reign, decided his best course as ruler was to continue to do everything his father did, including the creation of the Fabergé Egg each Easter for his mother and a second order to be delivered to his new wife, Czarina Alexandra Fedorovna. One of the most elegant eggs was the Fifteenth Anniversary egg (1911), a family album just over five-inches-tall. Exquisitely detailed paintings depict the most notable events of the reign of Nicholas II and each of the family members. “Not only is it a staggering tour-de-force of the jeweler’s art,” says Forbes, “but probably more than any other egg, it is the one most intimately associated with the whole tragedy of Nicholas and Alexandra and that incredibly beautiful family. There are these five children – all these sort of glamorous events surrounding their lives – and there they are looking out at us happily unknowing what was going to happen to them just a few years later.”
The Eggs were so opulent and each one so unique, that they created a demand from other aristocrats, kings and queens and captains if industry. A series of seven eggs was made for the industrialist Alexander Kelch and others were made for the Duchess of Marlborough, the Nobels and the Rothschilds.
After the 1917 Russian Revolution and the assassination of Nicholas and his family, the Tsars treasures including the Fabergé Eggs were moved to the Kremlin Armoury on the orders of Vladimir Lenin. Of the immediate family, only Nicholas’ mother, the Dowager Empress Maria Fedorovna, escapes the assassin’s bullet. As she makes a hasty departure from her homeland, she brings with her the Order of St. George egg, the last Fabergé Imperial Easter egg she would ever receive from her son Nicholas.
In a bid to acquire more foreign currency, Joseph Stalin had many of the eggs sold in 1927. Many of the eggs were sold to Armand Hammer, president of Occidental Petroleum and a personal friend of Lenin, whose father was founder of the United States Communist party. After the collection in the Kremlin Armoury, the largest gathering of Fabergé eggs was assembled by Malcolm Forbes. Totalling nine eggs, and approximately 180 other Fabergé objects, the collection was put up for auction at Sotheby’s in February 2004 by Forbes’ heirs. Before the auction even began the collection was purchased in its entirety by the oligarch Victor Vekselberg for a sum estimated between $90 and $120 million. The Winter Egg, studded with 1,660 diamonds, and made from quartz, platinum, and orthoclase, garnered the highest bid for any single egg. It was sold by Christies in 2002 for $9.6 million to a private collector on Qatar.
(Click on images to enlarge)