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Fabergé eggs are synonymous with the decadence of imperial Russian rule before the Russian Revolution of 1917. There were around 69 eggs created, and 57 remain–although some are still lost in the wake of the World Wars, and communist rule in Russia. The eggs were made from various jewels and materials, some being constructed of more modest mood and metal, and others being laden with expensive gemstones. Because of their fame, an egg could retail for hundreds of millions of dollars.
Let’s look at the history of these iconic eggs, and where they are now.
What Are Fabergé Eggs?
Fabergé eggs were a series of up to 69 opulent jeweled eggs traditionally given by the Ro
Gustav Fabergé, who founded The House of Fabergé in St. Petersburg in 1842, created the first eggs. However, his son Peter Carl Fabergé saw most of the iconic eggs come to fruition. After they gifted the first egg in the Easter of 1885, Fabergé had complete creative freedom to design the eggs. The Fabergé’s kept the design a secret from even the Tsar of Russia himself. Each egg had two requirements: be unique and contain a surprise inside.
Eggs were gifted each year at Easter apart from in 1904 and 1905, when Russians were engaged in the Russo-Japanese war.
Why Were Fabergé Eggs Made?
Tsar Alexander III liked to give his wife Empress Maria Feodorovna jeweled Easter eggs as a traditional Easter present. Prior to Easter, in 1885, he paid Gustav Fabergé to make an egg for the tsarina, which was the first of its collection. He created The Hen egg, with a yolk surprise inside. After this, the Tsar made Fabergé an official supplier of the Imperial Court as Empress Maria was so thrilled by her Easter gift.
The tradition continued when Tsar Alexander III passed away in 1894, his son Nicholas II began gifting eggs to both his mother (Dowager Empress Maria), and his wife Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna.
The Fabergé Egg Surprise
Every egg contained a unique surprise inside as a special feature. Many of the egg surprises have been lost to time, although some remain. These opulent features ranged from pictures of the royal family to items made from pure gold and jewels. They were another display of opulence in the already luxurious gift.
Where are the Fabergé Eggs now?
Today, most of the eggs live in private collections. But it is possible to see some of the luxurious icons in various museums around the world. Most of the eggs are found in America, unless you are lucky enough to view a private collection, and they are displayed in a variety of museums across the country.
The Fabergé museum in St Petersburg holds the largest collection of things made by The House of Fabergé, with over 4000 Fabergé items on display for visitors. The Kremlin Armory in Moscow has the biggest store of Fabergé eggs, holding 10 of the imperial eggs.
However, given the current Russo-Ukrainian war, it’s doubtful that tourists will make their way to Moscow and St. Petersburg this summer. So where else are the eggs displayed?
The British Royal family have their own collection. There are 15 royal residences that display a variety of objects they have collected during the rule. They have exhibited the Fabergé collection before but aren’t currently showing it to tourists.
In America, there are plenty of places to visit the eggs that remain in public museums. You can visit five of the Fabergé imperial eggs at the Richmond Viriginia Museum of the Fine Arts. They have 170 pieces of Fabergé, after philanthropist Lillian Thomas Pratt donated her collection in 1947. Cleveland Museum of Art has one of the last eggs made.
The Hillwood Museum in Washington DC has several Russian items on display after Marjorie Merriweather Post, an American socialite, developed a love for Russian art. The museum has two eggs on display. Meanwhile, in New York City, the Metropolitan Museum of Art houses three eggs, and in Baltimore there are two eggs living in The Walters Art Museum.
Some eggs are owned by unidentified private collectors, so we know nothing about where they are and who owns them. One of the largest owners of the eggs is Russian-Cypriot oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. Born in Ukraine, the oligarch purchased the nine eggs from the American Forbes family in 2004. He allows the Fabergé eggs to be displayed at the previously mentions Fabergé museum in St Petersburg, and was recently going to lend one to the Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum in London. This has been thrown into question because of the ongoing tumultuous relationship between the UK and Russia because of the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war and the UK’s tough sanctions on Russia.
Viktor Vekselberg Collection
One of the largest owners of the eggs is Russian-Cypriot oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. Born in Ukraine, the oligarch purchased the nine eggs from the American Forbes family in 2004. He allows the Fabergé eggs to be displayed at the previously mentions Fabergé museum in St Petersburg, and was recently going to lend one to the Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum in London. This has been thrown into question because of the ongoing tumultuous relationship between the UK and Russia because of the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war and the UK’s tough sanctions on Russia.
Vekeselberg is close with Vladimir Putin, and has had There have been questions over where the eggs are currently being stored, after questionable packages were sent to Panama in 2018 after the US placed Russia under sanctions. More recently, a yacht of Vekselberg’s was seized in Spain because of sanctions because of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.
Unfortunately, because of instability in Russia during the Russian Revolution, and both of the World Wars, some eggs–or some surprises originally inside the eggs – have been lost. That doesn’t mean they are lost forever. One of the eggs was discovered in an American scrap dealer’s kitchen, and they identified another in the British Royal Collection after originally being thought to be lost.
Third Imperial Egg
The Third Imperial Fabergé egg has an interesting backstory. This beautiful piece is a solid 18 carat gold case, resting on a golden ring decorated with waveform patterns, roses and leaves, and legs ending in lions paws. It’s adorned with oval sapphires, and golden bows decorated with small diamonds. The actual clasp of the egg to open it is created with a diamond that pushes inward to open the egg and reveal the inside, containing a 14 carat women’s watch.
Alexander III gave the egg to Tsarina Maria Feodorovna in 1887. But after the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Bolsheviks took it and kept it at the Moscow Kremlin Armory with most of the other Fabergé eggs and riches owned by the Russian Royal Family. Later, the Bolsheviks sold the eggs off to private collectors, and it found its way into a New York auction in 1964 where an unidentified buyer bought it.
After that, the egg was completely lost. Two Fabergé experts could trace it to the original New York auction in 1964. Until that point, it was thought to have been lost since 1922 and another egg had been misidentified as the Third Imperial Egg. The picture from the 1964 auction started a rapid search, with news articles coming out in 2011 talking about the egg’s value and provenance.
Meanwhile, in 2012, an American scrap dealer had this golden egg gathering dust in his kitchen. He’d been unable to sell it on to buyers to melt it down as they considered the price he was asking for too high. The dealer searched online and found his way to the 2011 article. He recognized the egg in the photo as the same object in his kitchen.
Fabergé experts came out and verified the egg, and Wartski sold it on behalf of the scrap dealer to someone in London. It now lives with an unidentified buyer. There are several eggs that went missing after the war and could be stored with private collectors or unidentified buyers as heirlooms in the family.
What Happened to The Fabergé Family?
Once the Bolsheviks took power during the Russian Revolution in 1917-18, the Fabergé family fled Russia after the Bolsheviks seized their business. Peter Carl Fabergé went to Latvia, and then further afield to Germany. Eugene Fabergé travelled by darkness with his mother, and went to Finland, before finally going to Switzerland with his father and other members of his family.
Peter Carl Fabergé passed away in 1920 in Switzerland, when the House of Fabergé had been ruined by the revolution. Family members considered the revolution played a major part in his death. Younger members of the Fabergé family opened a store in Paris in 1924 named Fabergé & Cie, whether they experienced some success.
The brand name continues to operate, still riding the coattails of their original pre-revolution success, and has changed hands many times over the last few decades. IN 2007 great-granddaughters Tatiana Fabergé and Sarah Fabergé were brought back on as founding members of the Fabergé Heritage Council.
Are Fabergé Eggs still made?
While the Russian royal family were commissioning the famous Fabergé eggs, there were other private clients who fell in love with the luxurious designs and requested their own. The House of Fabergé created similar jewelled eggs for the Duchess of Marlborough, the Yusupovs–another royal Russian family, though not the rulers of Russia–and the Rothschild family in Germany. Alexander Kelch, a Russian nobleman, also commissioned a further twelve eggs, but it appears only seven were completed before the revolution.
More recently, the Victor Mayer jewelry brand created a series of pieces inspired by Fabergé and the eggs from 1989 to 2009. These are now held under the Fabergé brand. At present, Fabergé Limited creates egg-themed jewelry, but if there are any eggs being designed and commissioned today, it’s done in private.