From the late 19th century until 1917, Russian tsars ordered Easter gifts for loved ones from the largest jeweler in Russian history. Today Faberge eggs – masterpieces of jewelry art – are in major museums and private collections around the world. But not all of them have been found yet.
In 1885, Tsar Alexander III commissioned 38-year-old Karl Faberge, a successful Russian jeweler with his own jewelry production company in St. Petersburg, to create a gift for his wife, Empress Maria, that would pleasantly surprise her. Faberge came up with an egg consisting of a gold base on the inside and white enamel on the outside. It was designed in the manner of a Russian nesting doll: you open the top of the doll and you find another doll inside. The master jeweler placed a miniature golden sculpture of a hen inside the egg, and inside the hen he placed a diamond replica of the imperial crown and a pendant: a ruby in the form of an egg. This work was named “Hen” and became the first of 50 imperial eggs produced by the family firm of Carl Faberge over the next 32 years.
In 1917 the October Revolution brought the end of the beautiful, extravagant tradition. The jeweler’s family was forced to leave Russia, and the precious eggs were confiscated by the new government and subsequently sold and exported to the West.
Today the cost of these masterpieces starts at a million dollars. Most of them have found their place in the world’s largest museums and private collections.
In particular, the “Hen” egg belongs to the collection of Viktor Vekselberg, along with eight others that the oil tycoon bought at Sotheby’s in 2004 from the Forbes family for $100 million. All nine Vekselberg eggs: “Hen” (1885), “Renaissance” (1894), “Egg with a Rosebud” (1895), “Coronation” (1897), “Lilies of the Valley” (1898), “Cockerel” (1900), “Laurel Tree” and “15th Anniversary of the Reign” (1911), and “Order of St. George” (1916) – are on display in the private Faberge Museum in St. Petersburg. And this is the largest collection of Faberge eggs after the collection of the Moscow Kremlin, where ten eggs are displayed.
Three imperial eggs are in the collection of Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain. This collection includes “Mosaic Egg,” acquired by Tsar Nicholas II for Tsarina Alexandra in 1914. Inlaid with diamonds and rubies, this egg features a miniature medallion containing portraits of five royal children inside. The egg was bought by King George V of Great Britain in 1933 for 250 pounds. In Buckingham Palace there are also several eggs: “Basket of Flowers” (1901), “Colonnade” (1910), and “Egg with Panels” (1899).
Five eggs are on display in the United States at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, donated to the museum by American philanthropist Lillian Thomas Pratt.
Until now, not all of the 50 eggs have been found, which leaves hope for treasure hunters. One of the eggs was suddenly discovered in 2015 by a scrap metal dealer at a flea market in the western United States. The egg was gold, on a gold stand, with a clock mechanism inside and hands inlaid with diamonds. Having become interested in this intricate little item, the seller decided to check the Vacheron Constantin jewelry brand. He discovered a photograph of this egg from a 1964 auction catalog and realized that his find was worth millions. The egg was put up for sale at the Wartski Gallery in London where it sold for £20 million ($33 million).