Like modern Canadians, Russian royalty in the 19th century loved Easter eggs. Unlike us, they didn’t settle for dollar-store chocolate. They celebrated the holiday with eggs made of pure gold and platinum and set with precious jewels.
Synonymous with the excess and perfectionism of a bygone era, the House of Fabergé’s egg creations are rightly famous — and about as blinged-out as Easter has ever been.
Fabergé eggs weren’t edible, but that was their only drawback.
Russian jeweller Peter Carl Fabergé created the first Imperial egg in 1885, which Czar Alexander III commissioned as a gift for his wife: a white enamelled egg with a yellow gold “yolk” inside. The yolk itself hinged open and contained a multicoloured hen, also made of gold — which could, of course, also be opened, revealing a near-microscopic diamond crown. Needless to say, it was a hit, spawning decades of Imperial eggs painstakingly crafted by the country’s finest jewellers.
“Each egg was more impressive than the last,” says Corey Keeble, a curator at the Royal Ontario Museum.
Among the most sumptuous Fabergé work was the Moscow Kremlin egg of 1906, with its stunningly detailed miniature of the palace, he says. Another opened to reveal a tiny replica of the royal coach, with wheels that turned, doors that opened and windows made of crystal.
Besides the Imperial eggs made for the Czar, Fabergé also made eggs for wealthy nonroyal clients. And when World War I broke out, Fabergé updated his designs to match the times, crafting a military-themed egg for the Czar. But 1917 would be the end of the line, thanks to the Russian Revolution, when the eggs’ Czarist patrons swiftly lost the throne and, eventually, their lives at the hands of the Bolsheviks.
Comrade Vladimir Lenin admittedly had other things on his mind than commissioning an official egg to commemorate the Red Army’s takeover. Too bad. Imagine it: a simple, blood-red number, set with a gold-leaf hammer and sickle, which opened to reveal a miniature bust of Karl Marx. Now that would surely have been Fabergé’s crowning achievement.
One of the largest collections of Fabergé eggs used to belong to the late U.S. magazine publisher Malcolm Forbes. After his death, however, it was snapped up by Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg and repatriated back to Russia in 2004 — a feat for which Vekselberg reportedly received then-President Vladimir Putin’s personal gratitude.
“The history of the eggs has come full circle,” says Keeble.
© Toronto Star. 09 April, 2012