Fabergé is one of the most iconic names in 20th century jewellery, his eponymous enamelled eggs are among the rarest items in the world, with most in museums or private collections.
Gustav Fabergé founded the business in 1844, setting up in a basement shop in St. Petersburg’s fashionable Bolshaia Morskaiait. However it was his son, Karl, who propelled the Fabergé name into the highest echelons of Russian society, making himself a household name in the proccess. Karl was court jeweller from 1885 until the Bolshevik Revolution, which brought the end of the company in Russia.
Many Fabergé pieces do not contain a huge amount of precious stones, but they do feature incredible artistic qualities, with beautiful design and perfect execution. Due to the many thousands of objects presented by the Russian Imperial family to their relatives abroad, the relative low cost of the items with semi-precious stones made them very attractive purchases.
Fabergé was a master enameller, and he perfected the “French” guilloché enamel, which consisted of up to seven layers of a glasslike coloured substance over an engine turned base. He developed over 140 colours, including six colours of gold.
In 1885, Tsar Alexander III commissioned Fabergé to make an Easter egg as a gift for his wife. Its “shell” is enamelled on gold to represent a normal hen’s egg. This pulls apart to reveal a gold yolk, which in turn opens to produce a gold chicken that also opens to reveal a replica of the Imperial Crown from which a miniature ruby egg was hanging. The Crown and the miniature egg have been lost, the rest of “The Hen Egg” is now in the collection of Victor Vekselberg.
The Tsar continued giving an egg to the Empress every year, and after his death Tsar Nicholas carried on giving one to his mother, the Dowager Empress, and also to his wife Empress Alexandra. In total, 54 eggs were completed, and 42 have survived. In 2007 one of the eggs sold at auction in London for almost nine million pounds. In popular culture, these Imperial Easter eggs are so famous that they were central to the plots of the 1983 James Bond film Octopussy, as well as Ocean’s 12 in 2004.
Below is the Gatchina Palace egg, made in 1901, which opens to reveal a miniature model of the Dowager’s Palace. It is on permanent display in the Walters Art Museum in Maryland, USA.
After the revolution, the House of Fabergé was nationalised, Karl fled to Germany and his family to Finland. He died in 1920. His children moved to Paris, and began trading under the name Fabergé et Cie, although they lost the rights to use the name in 1984. History came full circle in October 2007 when Fabergé announced the reunification of the Fabergé name with the Fabergé family, and very recently, Fabergé have started making eggs again; the first is the Pearl Egg, made with over three thousand diamonds and a 12 carat grey pearl, of exceptional purity.