Get up close and personal with the world’s most famous eggs
One of Russia’s most iconic treasures is undoubtedly the Fabergé egg, the iconic jewel-encrusted creations of Peter Carl Fabergé, son of jeweller Gustav Fabergé. In his time, he produced dozens of Fabergé eggs – some for the imperial family. Some of the most outstanding examples of Fabergé eggs – the Imperial Easter eggs – have been lost over the years, including the 'Cherub with Chariot,' and 'Hen with Sapphire Pendant.'
Of about 65 known eggs, only a few have survived today, mostly in Russia. Fifty Imperial Easter Eggs were made for the Romanov family.
The birth of a legend
Born Karl Gustavovich Fabergé, Peter Carl Fabergé cemented his name in imperial Romanov history as the creator of Fabergé eggs, which began quite innocuously as a present from tsar Alexander III to his wife, Maria Fyodorovna, on Easter in 1885. This first egg was relatively plain in comparison to the subsequent elaborate eggs – it was referred to as the Hen Egg and was inspired by a French Easter egg design. The tsarina was so delighted that the eggs became an annual gift, with the only requirement that there be a 'surprise' inside each egg. In 1897 came the more ornate gold Coronation Easter Egg, which contained a tiny mechanical (and functional) reproduction of Catherine the Great’s carriage.
Fabergé, however, did not limit his talent to eggs – under his House of Fabergé label, he was also known for fine jewellery and crafts, including exquisite figurines of all sorts, including people and animals. However, much of the actual crafting is said to have been done by Erik Kollin, a native Finn who became chief jeweller at the House of Fabergé.
The Fabergé Museum itself is housed within the Shuvalov (or Shuvalovsky) Palace in St. Petersburg with sponsorship from the Link of Times foundation, which was established by the billionaire Viktor Vekselberg to repatriate and preserve Russian cultural artefacts; many of these precious items were sold off during the Soviet era, some never to be recovered. It was formally opened in 2013 after extensive renovations to the palace.
The Museum’s permanent egg collection includes nine Imperial Easter eggs, which Vekselberg bought from American publisher Malcolm Forbes for $100 million in 2004. These include the incredible Bay Tree Easter Egg, as well as the Cockerel Easter Egg, which is also a clock. The museum also features a collection of non-Imperial Fabergé eggs, including the 'Pink Serpent' egg that was made for the Duchess of Marlborough, Consuelo Vanderbilt, in 1902 – this is the only egg that was commissioned for an American.
The rest of the museum and palace houses lavish collections of silverwork, exquisite clocks, jewellery, religious artefacts, and precious metals – totalling about 4,000 items – but the Fabergé egg collection is a truly once-in-a-lifetime look at some of the most coveted objects in the art history. You can find these treasures in the Blue Room, which once served as the Shuvalov’s dining room.