A Road Trip Like No Other
Once derided as markers of decadence, gem-encrusted Fabergé eggs are making a comeback. By Hong Xinyi
Glen Watson takes part in the 2013 Centenary Alpine Trial in Austria.
Tokens of love, emblems of imperial splendour, showcases for breathtaking craftsmanship, poignant reminders of a violence-soaked history, and now, controversial status symbols for a new breed of wealthy tastemakers – the iconic Fabergé eggs bear different meanings.
The first Fabergé egg was made in 1885 for the Romanov Tsar, Alexander III, and presented to his wife, Empress Maria Feodorovna, as an Easter present. Jeweller Peter Carl Fabergé was tasked with creating what is known as the Hen Egg. Its gold shell covered with opaque white enamel, the egg opens to reveal a matte yellow gold yolk containing a gold hen with ruby eyes, which opened to reveal a diamond replica of the imperial crown and a ruby pendant.
The commissioning of imperial easter eggs became a tradition that Alexander III’s son, Nicholas II, continued. Over the next 32 years, until the Romanov dynasty was overthrown in 1917, Fabergé made an estimated 50 such eggs for the royal family, as well as eggs for other aristocrats and captains of industry. Says Mark Moehrke, Fabergé expert and Director of Russian Works of Art at Christie’s: “Fabergé eggs are the ultimate trophy for collectors because they have imperial provenance and reflect the romance of the lost Russian Empire. Rarity is one of the most appealing qualities of the Fabergé eggs.”
One apocryphal anecdote claims that Fabergé eggs were among the valuables sewn into the clothes of Nicholas II’s young daughters before the family faced the Bolshevik firing squad. Later, under Joseph Stalin’s regime, many Imperial Eggs were sold to collectors outside Russia. The most prominent of these buyers was the tycoon Malcolm Forbes, whose collection of Fabergé objects included nine Imperial Eggs.
Some striking Imperial Eggs include the 1911 Fifteenth Anniversary Egg, an enamel and diamond creation featuring scenes from the private and public lives of Nicholas II and his family.The 1913 Winter Egg, auctioned in 2002 for US$9.6 million, is admired for its thin rock crystal shell, with platinum and diamond decorations designed to look like frost. In 2007, a 1902 gold and enamel Fabergé egg owned by the Rothschild banking family made headlines for fetching US$16.5 million at an auction.
“Since this market came into being following the Russian Revolution, collectors from all over the world have become interested in them. Fabergé collectors have diverse backgrounds, coming from America, Europe and Russia,” Moehrke notes. “Although there is always the risk of acquiring fakes, Fabergé eggs have been very well documented for the past century, so they are easily traceable. Collectors can always seek exper t advice from auction house specialists.”
In 2004, as par t of his personal mission to recover Russian cultural ar tefacts that were lost during the 20th century, Russian oligarch Victor Vekselberg bought the Forbes collection for a sum estimated at more than US$100 million. Another 10 of the Imperial Eggs are displayed at Moscow’s Kremlin Armoury Museum.The rest are in private and state collections and in museums all over the world. Eight Imperial Eggs remain missing.
The Fabergé brand itself has staged a comeback. Purchased by businessman Brian Gilbertson in 2007, with Peter Carl Fabergé’s great-granddaughters Tatiana and Sarah acting as advisors, the company launched two collections of egg pendants in 2011 – the first new creations from the House of Fabergé since the dark days of 1917.
Fabergé eggs are the ultimate trophy for collectors because they have imperial provenance and reflect the romance of the lost Russian Empire.
01 Model illuminated by light from a Russian Imperial Easter egg made by Fabergé. She wears a lacy collar of square-cut emeralds and round diamonds, and matching diamond ring, all from Harry Winston circa December 1958.