A Faberge egg is one of 56 jewelry Easter
eggs made by Peter Carl Faberge of the Faberge company between
1884 and 1917. The eggs are among the masterpieces of the jeweler’s
The Faberge eggs began with an
Easter egg made for the czar that became a gift for his wife,
Czarina Maria. The egg reminded the empress of her homeland,
and so from then on it was agreed that Faberge would make
an Easter egg each year for Maria. Faberge designed Easter
eggs for another eleven years until Alexander III died. Then
Nicholas II, Alexander's son, continued the tradition. It
was agreed that the Easter gift would always have an egg shape
and would hold a surprise. The surprise was always kept secret.
As the House of Faberge prospered (due to in
no small part to the cachet of imperial patronage), the preparation
of the eggs came to take up an entire year; once a concept
was chosen, dozens of artisans worked to assemble the project.
The designs for the Imperial eggs were inspired
by historical art works that Faberge imitated or copied from
his travels or from the Hermitage. However, there is a poignant
representation of what is now Russian history in the design
of a number of these eggs. There were eggs to commemorate
the coronation of Czar Nicholas II, the completion of the
Trans Siberian Railway, and anniversaries. There were eggs
depicting the Imperial yacht-Standart, the Uspensky Cathedral,
the Gatchina Palace, and during the time of war, the Red Cross
and the military.
Faberge's primary source of inspiration came
from works of previous centuries. Translucent enameling was
a valued technique in the nineteenth century that required
several coats of applied enamel and the "firing"
of the object in an oven after each coat. However, only a
small number of colors were used in the nineteenth century,
and so Faberge took it upon himself to experiment and soon
came up with over 140 shades. The most prized of these was
oyster enamel, which varied in color depending on the light.
Materials used by Faberge included metals -
silver, gold, copper, nickel, palladium - that were combined
in varying proportions to produce different colors. Another
technique used by eighteenth century French goldsmiths and
again Faberge involves a simple tinting of the completed work
using stones and enamel.
Another technique used by Faberge included
guilloche, a surface treatment that could make waves and striations
in the design and could be done by machine or by hand. Faberge
used natural stones often found in abundance in the area.
Precious stones including sapphires, rubies and emeralds were
used only for decoration, and when used they were en cabochon
(round cut). Diamonds were typically rose-cut. Semi-precious
stones including moonstones, garnets, olivines, and Mecca
stones were used more often en cabochon.
Fifty six Imperial eggs were made, forty-four
of which have been located today and another two that are
known to have been photographed. Another twelve Easter eggs
were commissioned by Alexander Ferdinandovich Kelch, a Siberean
gold mine owner. However, the Imperial Easter egg collection
commissioned by the last of the Russian Czars is the most
Today just 10 eggs were still in Russia, all
on display at the Kremlin Armory Museum. Another nine were
purchased by Viktor Vekselberg in February 2004 from the Forbes
family in New York city. Smaller collections are in the Virginia
Museum of Fine Arts, New Orleans Museum of Art, and other
museums around the world. Four eggs are in private collections,
and eight are still missing.