A Fabergé egg (Russian: ? , yaytsa faberzhe) is a jewelled egg created by the House of Fabergé, in St. Petersburg, Imperial Russia. Possibly as many as 69 were created, of which 57 survive today. Virtually all were manufactured under the supervision of Peter Carl Fabergé between 1885 and 1917, the most famous being the 52 "Imperial" eggs, 46 of which survive, made for the Russian Tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II as Easter gifts for their wives and mothers.
The first Fabergé egg was crafted for Tsar Alexander III, who had decided to give his wife, the Empress Maria Feodorovna, an Easter egg in 1885, possibly to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their betrothal. Although there is no official record of the Tsar's inspiration for it, many believe that he was moved by an egg owned by the Empress's aunt, Princess Vilhelmine Marie of Denmark, which had captivated Maria's imagination in her childhood and of which the Tsar was well aware. Known as the Hen Egg, the very first Fabergé egg is crafted from a foundation of gold. Its opaque white enameled "shell" opens to reveal a matte yellow-gold yolk. This, in turn, opens to reveal a multicolored gold hen that also opens. The hen contained a minute diamond replica of the imperial crown from which a small ruby pendant was suspended, but these last two elements have been lost.
Maria was so delighted by the gift that Alexander appointed Fabergé a "goldsmith by special appointment to the Imperial Crown" and commissioned another egg the next year. After that, Peter Carl Fabergé was apparently given complete freedom for the design of future imperial Easter eggs, and their designs became more elaborate. According to Fabergé family lore, not even the Tsar knew what form they would take--the only requirements were that each contain a surprise, and that each be unique. Once Fabergé had approved an initial design, the work was carried out by a team of craftsmen, among them Michael Perkhin, Henrik Wigström and Erik August Kollin.
After Alexander III's death on 1 November 1894, his son, Nicholas II, presented a Fabergé egg to both his wife, Alexandra Fedorovna, and his mother, the Dowager Empress Maria Fedorovna. Records have shown that of the 50 imperial Easter eggs, 20 were given to the former and 30 to the latter. Eggs were made each year except 1904 and 1905, during the Russo-Japanese War.
The imperial eggs enjoyed great fame, and Fabergé was commissioned to make similar eggs for a few private clients, including the Duchess of Marlborough, the Rothschild family and the Yusupovs. Fabergé was also commissioned to make twelve eggs for the industrialist Alexander Kelch, though only seven appear to have been completed.
Following the revolution and the nationalization of the Fabergé workshop in St. Petersburg by the bolsheviks in 1918, the Fabergé family left Russia. The Fabergé trademark has since been sold several times and several companies have retailed egg-related merchandise using the Fabergé name. The Victor Mayer jewelry company produced limited edition heirloom quality Fabergé eggs authorized under Unilever's license from 1998 to 2009. The trademark is now owned by Fabergé Limited, which makes egg-themed jewelry.
Below is a chronology of the eggs made for the imperial family. The dating of the eggs has evolved. An earlier chronology dated the Blue Serpent Clock Egg to 1887 and identified the egg of 1895 as the Twelve Monograms Egg. The discovery of the previously lost Third Imperial Easter Egg confirms the chronology below.
|1885||Hen||Also known as the Jeweled Hen Egg, it was the first in a series of 54 jeweled eggs made for the Russian Imperial family under Fabergé's supervision. It was delivered to Alexander III in 1885. The Tsarina and the Tsar enjoyed the egg so much that Alexander III ordered a new egg from Fabergé for his wife every Easter thereafter.||Viktor Vekselberg|
|1886||Hen with Sapphire Pendant||Also known as the Egg with Hen in Basket, it was made in 1886 for Alexander III, who presented it to his wife, the Empress Maria Feodorovna.||Lost|
|1887||Third Imperial||A jewelled and ridged yellow gold Egg with Vacheron & Constantin watch stands on its original tripod pedestal, which has chased lion paw feet and is encircled by coloured gold garlands suspended from cabochon blue sapphires topped with rose diamond set bows. After being discovered in an American flea market, in 2014 it was purchased by London-based jeweler Wartski on behalf of an unidentified private collector.||Private collection|
|1888||Cherub with Chariot||Also known as the Angel with Egg in Chariot, crafted and delivered in 1888 to Alexander III. This is one of the lost imperial eggs, so few details are known about it.||Lost|
|1889||Nécessaire||Crafted and delivered to Alexander III, who presented it to his wife, Maria Feodorovna, on Easter 1889.||Lost|
|1890||Danish Palaces||Crafted and delivered to Alexander III, who presented it to his wife, Maria Feodorovna, on Easter 1890.||Matilda Geddings Gray Foundation, housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, until 2021|
|1891||Memory of Azov||Kremlin Armoury, Moscow, Russia|
|1892||Diamond Trellis||The surprise, an elephant automaton thought to have been lost for many years, was identified in 2015 as being in the collection of the British Royal Collection Trust.||Dorothy and Artie McFerrin collection|
|1893||Caucasus||Matilda Geddings Gray Foundation,
displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
|1895||Blue Serpent Clock||Before March 2014 mistaken for the Third Imperial Egg||Albert II of Monaco collection, Monte-Carlo, Monaco|
|1896||Rock Crystal||Also known as Revolving Miniatures Egg||Virginia Museum of Fine Arts|
|1896||Twelve Monograms||Also known as the Alexander III Portraits Egg. Surprise is missing.||Hillwood Museum, Washington, D.C., US|
|1897||Imperial Coronation||Viktor Vekselberg|
|1897||Mauve||Only the egg's surprise has survived.||Lost|
|1898||Lilies of the Valley||Made under the supervision of Fabergé in 1898 by Fabergé ateliers. The supervising goldsmith was Michael Perchin. The egg is one of two in Art Nouveau style. It was presented on 5 April to Tsar Nicholas II, and was used as a gift to the tsaritsa, Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna.||Viktor Vekselberg|
|1898||Pelican||Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia, US|
|1899||Bouquet of Lilies Clock||Kremlin Armoury, Moscow, Russia|
|1899||Pansy||The egg's surprise||Matilda Gray Stream, US|
|1900||Trans-Siberian Railway||Kremlin Armoury, Moscow, Russia|
|1901||Basket of Flowers||Royal Collection, London, United Kingdom|
|1901||Gatchina Palace||Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland, US|
|1902||Clover Leaf||Kremlin Armoury, Moscow, Russia|
|1902||Empire Nephrite||Surprise - miniature portrait of Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna of Russia and Duke Peter Alexandrovich of Oldenburg (original lost)||Private collection, New York City|
|1903||Peter the Great||Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia, US|
|1904||No eggs made|
|1905||No eggs made|
|1906||Moscow Kremlin||Kremlin Armoury, Moscow, Russia|
|1906||Swan||Edouard and Maurice Sandoz Foundation, Switzerland|
|1907||Rose Trellis||Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland, US|
|1907||Love Trophies||Also known as the "Cradle with Garlands" egg||Private collection|
|1908||Alexander Palace||Kremlin Armoury, Moscow, Russia|
|1908||Peacock||Edouard and Maurice Sandoz Foundation, Switzerland|
|1909||Standart Yacht||Kremlin Armoury, Moscow, Russia|
|1909||Alexander III Commemorative||Lost|
|1910||Colonnade||Royal Collection, London, UK|
|1910||Alexander III Equestrian||Kremlin Armoury, Moscow, Russia|
|1911||Fifteenth Anniversary||Viktor Vekselberg|
|1911||Bay Tree||Also known as the Orange Tree Egg||Viktor Vekselberg|
|1912||Czarevich or Tsarevich||Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia, US|
|1912||Napoleonic||Matilda Geddings Gray Foundation.
Displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
|1913||Romanov Tercentenary||Kremlin Armoury, Moscow, Russia|
|1913||Winter||Designed by Alma Pihl, the only female and one of the best known Fabergé workmasters, as a gift to Maria Feodorovna by her son Nicholas II. The exterior of the egg resembles frost and ice crystals formed on clear glass. It is studded with 1,660 diamonds, and is made from quartz, platinum, and orthoclase. The surprise is a miniature flower basket studded with 1,378 diamonds and is made from platinum and gold, while the flowers are made of white quartz and the leaves are made of demantoid. The flowers lie in gold moss. The egg is 102 millimeters high.||It was reported that the buyer was Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar.|
|1914||Mosaic||Royal Collection, London, UK|
|1914||Grisaille||Also known as the "Catherine the Great Egg". The egg was made by Henrik Wigström, "Fabergé's last head workmaster". It was given to Maria Feodorovna by her son Nicholas II. Its surprise (now lost) was "a mechanical sedan chair, carried by two blackamoors, with Catherine the Great seated inside".||Hillwood Museum, Washington, D.C., US|
|1915||Red Cross with Triptych||Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio, USA|
|1915||Red Cross with Imperial Portraits||Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia, US|
|1916||Steel Military||Kremlin Armoury, Moscow, Russia|
|1916||Order of St. George||Made during World War I, the Order of St. George egg commemorates the Order of St. George that was awarded to Emperor Nicholas and his son, the Grand Duke Alexei Nikolaievich. The Order of St. George Egg and its counterpart the Steel Military Egg were given a modest design in keeping with the austerity of World War I, and Fabergé billed 13,347 rubles for the two. The Order of St. George egg left Bolshevik Russia with its original recipient, the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna.||Viktor Vekselberg|
|1917||Karelian Birch||Created in 1917, the egg was due to be completed and delivered to the Tsar that Easter, as a present for his mother, the Empress Maria Feodorovna. Before the egg could be delivered, the February Revolution took place and Nicholas II was forced to abdicate on 15 March. On 25 April, Fabergé sent the Tsar an invoice for the egg, addressing Nicholas II not as "Tsar of all the Russians" but as "Mr. Romanov, Nikolai Aleksandrovich". Nicholas paid 12,500 rubles and the egg was sent to Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich at his palace, for presentation to the empress, but the duke fled before it arrived. The egg remained in the palace until it was stolen in the wake of the October Revolution later that year.||Alexander Ivanov. Displayed at Ivanov's|
|1917||Constellation (unfinished)||Because of the Russian Revolution of 1917, this egg was never finished or presented to Nicholas's wife, the Tsaritsa Alexandra Feodorovna. Two eggs have claims to be the Constellation Egg: one held at Fersman Mineralogical Museum in Moscow and the other in the possession of Alexander Ivanov and displayed at Ivanov's Fabergé Museum in Baden-Baden, Germany.||Fersman Mineralogical Museum, Moscow or the Fabergé Museum in Baden-Baden.|
Faberge was also commissioned to make eggs for Alexander Ferdinandovich Kelch, a Siberian gold mine industrialist, as gifts for his wife Barbara (Varvara) Kelch-Bazanova. Though still "Fabergé eggs" by virtue of having been produced by his workshop, these eggs were not as elaborate as the imperial eggs, and were not unique in design. Most are copies of other eggs.
|1899||Twelve Panel||Royal Collection, London, UK|
|1900||Pine Cone||Private collection|
|1901||Apple Blossom||Liechtenstein National Museum|
|1902||Rocaille||Dorothy and Artie McFerrin collection|
|1903||Bonbonnière||Estate of the late Kerry Packer|
|1885-91||Blue Striped Enamel||Private collection|
|1902||Duchess of Marlborough||Viktor Vekselberg|
|1902||Rothschild||Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia|
|1907||Youssoupov||Edouard and Maurice Sandoz Foundation, Switzerland|
|1914||Nobel Ice||Dorothy and Artie McFerrin collection|
|1885-89||Resurrection||possibly the surprise from the 1894 Renaissance Egg||Viktor Vekselberg|
|1899-1903||Spring Flowers||Possibly inauthentic||Viktor Vekselberg|
|1895||Egg-Stamp||A seal, made of red gold, surrounding the upper part of the Egg and bowenite, decorated with 19 diamonds. At the top of the Egg six rubies, cabochons on garlands, and three rubies, cabochons on the chest of the cherubs.||Private collection|
Of the 69 known Fabergé eggs,[note 1] 57 have survived to the present day. Ten of the imperial Easter eggs are displayed at Moscow's Kremlin Armory Museum. Of the 50 delivered imperial eggs, 44 have survived, and there are photographs of three of the six lost eggs: the 1903 Royal Danish Egg, the 1909 Alexander III Commemorative Egg, and the Nécessaire Egg of 1889. The previously lost Third Imperial Easter Egg of 1887 has since been found in the US and bought by Wartski for a private collector.
After the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks nationalized the House of Fabergé, and the Fabergé family fled to Switzerland, where Peter Carl Fabergé died in 1920. The imperial family's palaces were ransacked and their treasures moved to the Kremlin Armoury on order of Vladimir Lenin.
In a bid to acquire more foreign currency, Joseph Stalin had many of the eggs sold in 1927, after their value had been appraised by Agathon Fabergé. Between 1930 and 1933, 14 imperial eggs left Russia. 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) and to Emanuel Snowman of the London antique dealers Wartski.
After the collection in the Kremlin Armoury, the largest gathering of Fabergé eggs was assembled by Malcolm Forbes, and displayed in New York City. Totaling nine eggs, and approximately 180 other Fabergé objects, the collection was to be put up for auction at Sotheby's in February 2004 by Forbes' heirs. However, before the auction began, the collection was purchased in its entirety by the oligarch Victor Vekselberg. In a 2013 BBC Four documentary, Vekselberg revealed he had spent just over $100 million purchasing the nine Fabergé eggs. He claims never to have displayed them in his home, saying he bought them as they are important to Russian history and culture, and he believed them to be the best jewelry art in the world. In the same BBC documentary, Vekselberg revealed he plans to open a museum that will display the eggs in his collection, which was built as a private Fabergé Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia on 19 November 2013.[note 2]
In November 2007, a Fabergé clock, named by Christie's auction house the Rothschild Egg, sold at auction for £8.9 million (including commission). The price achieved by the egg set three auction records: it is the most expensive timepiece, Russian object, and Fabergé object ever sold at auction, surpassing the $9.6 million sale of the 1913 Winter Egg in 2002.
In 1989, as part of the San Diego Arts Festival, 26 Fabergé eggs were loaned for display at the San Diego Museum of Art, the largest exhibition of Fabergé eggs anywhere since the Russian Revolution. The eggs included eight from the Kremlin,[note 3] nine from the Forbes collection,[note 4] three from the New Orleans Museum of Art,[note 5] two from the Royal Collection[note 6] one from the Cleveland Museum of Art[note 7] and three from private collections.[note 8]
|Location/Owner||Image||Number of eggs||Eggs in collection|
|Kremlin Armoury, Moscow, Russia||10||Memory of Azov, Bouquet of Lilies Clock, Trans-Siberian Railway, Clover Leaf, Moscow Kremlin, Alexander Palace, Standart Yacht, Alexander III Equestrian, Romanov Tercentenary, Steel Military|
|Viktor Vekselberg's Link of Times foundation,
Fabergé Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia
|9||Hen, Renaissance, Rosebud, Coronation, Lilies of the Valley, Cockerel, Fifteenth Anniversary, Bay Tree, Order of St. George|
|Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia, United States||5||Revolving Miniatures, Pelican, Peter the Great, Czarevich, Red Cross with Imperial Portraits|
|Royal Collection, London, UK||3||Basket of Wild Flowers, Colonnade, Mosaic|
|Matilda Geddings Gray Foundation. Displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, United States||3||Danish Palaces, Caucasus, Napoleonic|
|Edouard and Maurice Sandoz Foundation, Lausanne, Switzerland||2||Swan, Peacock|
|Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens, Washington, D.C., United States||2||Twelve Monograms, Catherine the Great|
|Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland, United States||2||Gatchina Palace, Rose Trellis|
|Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio, United States||1||Red Cross with Triptych|
|Albert II of Monaco collection, Monte-Carlo, Monaco||1||Blue Serpent Clock|
|Alexander Ivanov. Displayed at Ivanov's Fabergé Museum in Baden-Baden, Germany.||1||Karelian Birch (the egg was never delivered to the Tsar due to the February Revolution)|
|The State of Qatar||1||Winter|
|Dorothy and Artie McFerrin collection||1||Diamond Trellis|
|Separate private collections||4||Pansy, Love Trophies, Third Imperial Egg, Empire|
|Location/Owner||Image||Number of Eggs||Eggs in collection|
|Viktor Vekselberg's Link of Times foundation,
Fabergé Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia
|2||Kelch Hen, Chanticleer|
|Royal Collection, London, UK||1||Twelve Panel|
|Liechtenstein National Museum||1||Apple Blossom|
|Dorothy and Artie McFerrin collection||1||Rocaille|
|Separate private collections||2||Pine Cone, Bonbonnière|
|Location/owner||Image||Number of eggs||Eggs in collection|
|Viktor Vekselberg's Link of Times foundation,
Fabergé Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia
|4||Duchess of Marlborough, Resurrection, Spring Flowers, Scandinavian|
|Cleveland Museum of Art||1||Lapis Lazuli|
|Dorothy and Artie McFerrin collection||1||Nobel Ice|
|Edouard and Maurice Sandoz Foundation, Lausanne, Switzerland||1||Youssoupov|
|Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia||1||Rothschild|
|private collection||1||Blue Striped Enamel|
Fabergé eggs have acquired a cult status in the art world and popular culture. Featured in exhibitions, films, TV series, documentaries, cartoons, publications, and the news, they continue to intrigue. They have become symbols of the splendor, power and wealth of the Romanov dynasty and the Russian Empire, priceless treasures to hunt, steal, etc.
As such, they have been part of the plot in several films and television series, such as Octopussy (1983), Love Among Thieves (1987), Murder She Wrote episode "An Egg to Die For" (1994), The Simpsons episode "'Round Springfield" (1995), Case Closed: The Last Wizard of the Century (1999), The Order (2001), Relic Hunter episode "M.I.A." (2001), Ocean's Twelve (2004), Thick as Thieves (2009), American Dad! episode "A Jones for a Smith" (2010), The Intouchables (2011), Hustle episode "Eat Yourself Slender" (2012), Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated episode "The House of the Nightmare Witch" (2012),Person of Interest episode "Search and Destroy" (2015), Imperial Eight (2015), the British crime drama series Peaky Blinders ("Lilies of the Valley" egg, season 3, episode 6, 2016), Hooten & the Lady episode "Moscow" (2016), and the comedy Game Night (2018), Between Two Ferns: The Movie (2019).
In Danielle Steele's 1988 novel Zoya, a Fabergé egg is a keepsake of the last two remaining members of a noble family. The 2011 digital card game Cabals: Magic & Battle Cards features Fabergé egg as a collectible card.