Comprehensive history of the 50 extravagant baubles created between 1885 and 1917 as Easter gifts for the Russian royal family.
It was a combination of luck and skill, writes Faber (Stradivari’s Genius, 2005, etc.), that enabled Carl Fabergé, one of many local artisans catering to the turn-of-the-century St. Petersburg aristocracy, to become “Jeweller to the Court” and creator of the elegant eggs synonymous with the prewar gilded era. In 1885, czarina Marie Fedorovna purchased Fabergé cufflinks at a jewelry expo; that same year, Alexander III commissioned the first Fabergé Easter egg for his wife. The czarina was delighted with the exquisite gift, which contained a golden yoke, a miniature imperial crown in diamonds and a ruby pendant. A tradition was born that two generations of czars would maintain for three decades. The eggs displayed astonishing craftsmanship and attention to detail, qualities that became Fabergé hallmarks and resulted in the family-owned firm becoming the largest jewelry supplier in the world. It was their connection to the Romanovs, though, that marked the 50 imperial eggs as tokens of history. The years in which they were given saw ever-increasing strife and tragedy. As Russia devolved into poverty and hurtled toward revolution, the czar’s regime displayed much pomp but little concern for the welfare of his people. The eggs became a symbol of ostentatious wealth with little utilitarian purpose; each year they grew more elaborate and personalized, thus providing a priceless glance into the lives of the doomed royal family. After the abdication of Nicholas II and the subsequent execution of the former czar, his wife and children in 1918, the eggs were seized and dispersed. By 1930, more than a dozen had emerged in the hands of private investors in the West; they have since been bought and sold by a variety of collectors, including Armand Hammer and Malcolm Forbes. In 2004, in a great show of nationalism, Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg purchased Forbes’s entire Fabergé collection for more than $90 million, reinforcing the Fabergé brand and its importance to Russian history.