Design Moment: Fabergé egg, 1885

As a symbol of excess – and extraordinary craftsmanship – this Easter egg is hard to beat

The Rosebud egg was auctioned in 2004 at Sotheby’s in New York, when nine Fabergé Imperial Easter Eggs, valued collectively at $90 million, went under the hammer. Photograph: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

The Rosebud egg was auctioned in 2004 at Sotheby’s in New York, when nine Fabergé Imperial Easter Eggs, valued collectively at $90 million, went under the hammer. Photograph: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

 

As a symbol of excess – and extraordinary craftsmanship – a Fabergé egg is hard to beat. And it’s an Easter egg. In 1885, Emperor Alexander III commissioned an Easter gift for his wife, Empress Maria Feodorovna, from the celebrated goldsmith Peter Carl Fabergé.

Some years before, Fabergé, with this bother Agathon, had taken over their father’s jewellery business in St Petersburg and modernised it – introducing styles he had learned on his grand tour through Germany, France and England in the 1860s. Instead of his father’s traditional diamond-focused designs, he worked with precious coloured jewels and perfected his enamelling technique.

Fabergé had come to the attention of the palace through his work in the Hermitage museum, where he had the task of restoring 18th-century objets d’art in the collection, including the elaborately decorated French gold and enamel snuff boxes – a task which is thought to have influenced his later, fanciful designs for the eggs.

The first egg was to include a diamond ring but the emperor changed his mind, insisting on a ruby pendant instead and thereafter each egg was in effect the most elaborate jewellery box containing a precious, surprise, gift. He commissioned another egg the following year and it became a family tradition: between 1885 and 1893, Emperor Alexander III commissioned 10 eggs from Fabergé. The same conditions applied – Fabergé was given complete control of his design.

Tsar Nicholas II went on to commission two eggs a year – one for his mother, the other for his wife. In all, there were 50 Imperial Eggs. The egg pictured is the Rosebud egg, auctioned in 2004 at Sotheby’s in New York, when nine Fabergé Imperial Easter Eggs, valued collectively at $90 million, went under the hammer.

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