On Easter in 1885, Czar Alexander III and his wife Czarina Maria Fedorovna celebrated their twentieth wedding anniversary. For those of the Russian Orthodox faith, Easter is the most important holiday, marking a time of hope and new life. So it came to pass that the Czar wanted to give his wife a very special gift on this very special occasion.
The Czar commissioned a truly unique gift from a young jeweler named Peter Carl Faberge, whose creations were favored his wife. Faberge delivered an enameled egg with a golden yolk on Easter morning. A golden hen, a miniature royal crown of diamonds, and a ruegg were hidden inside the yolk. Maria was enthralled the gift, prompting the Czar to retain Faberge’s services every Easter after that. The Czar only demanded that each Faberge egg be one-of-a-kind and include a surprise fit for an Empress.
Year after year, Faberge delivered, drawing inspiration from the Czar’s and his wife’s lives. The Danish Palaces egg from 1891, for example, was encrusted with jewels and gold leaf and covered in translucent pink enamel. Inside, there were ten screens with painted miniature portraits of the palaces and houses where Maria had lived as a Danish princess before marrying Alexander III.
Nicholas II, the Czar’s son, ascended to the throne after the Czar’s untimely death in 1894. Nicholas ordered a second Faberge egg for his wife, Czarina Alexandra Fedorovna, in addition to continuing the Faberge egg tradition for his mother.
When the Imperial eggs were first displayed in public at the 1900 World Exhibition, Faberge’s life was forever changed. The ornate eggs’ exquisite beauty drew royal and aristocratic adoration, and Faberge was inundated with commissions from all over the world. The House of Faberge was founded as a result of this.
Famine and riots marked the end of the Czar’s reign on March 15, 1917. Nicholas and his family, which included his five children, were held captive for more than a year before being led to a basement and executed on July 17, 1918. Nicholas’ mother escaped death and returned to her homeland with the Order of St. George egg, the final Faberge egg she would ever own.
In total, fifty-six Imperial Faberge eggs were created, of which forty-four have been identified and two have been photographed. Alexander Kelch, the owner of a Siberian gold mine, also commissioned Faberge Easter eggs, but the Imperial Easter egg collection is the most valuable.
The Faberge egg’s mystique, beauty, and whimsical nature are still copied today, but few people are aware of the history behind the bejeweled symbol of hope and life, which was inspired a reign of Czars whose own lives ended in tragedy.