Friday, March 18, 2011

Why We Love the Fabergé Imperial Easter Eggs

With the first Imperial Easter Egg,  a legacy was born that still astounds us decades later.  Under the patronage of the Russian Tsar, the name Fabergé became the first international luxury "brand."

Princes, pashas and potentates; emirs and emperors; billionaires and barons; kings and queens all crossed the threshold of the House of Fabergé seeking a suitable gift, something extraordinarily beautiful for an anniversary, christening or wedding.  No personal event could be celebrated without a surprise from the House of Fabergé.

For the Romanovs, that included jewelry, pictures frames, clocks, pill boxes, furniture and even a children’s china tea party set for the four daughters of the last Tsar.  But none struck the fancy of connoisseurs and the man in the street alike as much as the Imperial Eggs.  After Alexander III’s death, the tradition expanded as new Tsar Nicholas II gifted not only his mother, the Dowager Empress Maria Fedorovna, at Easter with a bejeweled Fabergé Egg but also his wife, the beloved Empress Alexandra. 

What are the enduring signatures of these Fabergé designs?  It wasn’t a lavish use of diamonds but a lavish use of imagination, fantasy, whimsy.  Each Imperial Egg contained a surprise in miniature that would magically appear from its shell:  bouquets of flowers to greet the new spring; family portraits as keepsakes; mechanical cocks-a- crowing or a finely detailed train to delight and entertain.  These surprises were hidden inside ornately decorated eggs, many featuring guilloche enamel, hand engraving, gemstones and diamonds.

Coronation Egg

One of the most beloved designs is the Coronation Egg,  presented by Tsar Nicholas to Alexandra for Easter of 1897.   Under the direction of workmaster Mikhail Perkhin, the piece supposedly took 15 months to complete while laboring 16 hours a day.  The five inch lime yellow guilloche enamel shell is adorned with multi-colored golds, black and blue enamel accent and diamond.  The surprise of the piece upon opening, a miniature of the the coach used in Nicholas' 1894 coronation ceremony -- three and a half inches of perfection crafted of gold, platinum, red enamel, diamond, ruby and rock crystal.  (A small emerald egg pendant was part of the surprise, in the coach interior, but that has been lost.)

Lilies of the Valley Egg

The following Easter, Alexandra received another exquisite gift, the Lilies of the Valley Egg.   This confection of pink guilloche enamel is decorated with those flowers of spring, Lilies of the Valley, fashioned from gold, green enamel and pearls.  Over seven inches tall, the piece has a surprise of three portraits -- Tsar Nicholas II and daughters the Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana.  These pictures are revealed, rising with the cabochon ruby crown finial, when a pearl button is pressed.  Again, Mikhail Perkhin is the workmaster.

Both the Coronation and Lilies of the Valley Eggs were part of the Forbes Collection that was sold to Russian Viktor Vekselberg and will be on display in St. Petersburg, Russia.

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