WHEN HISTORY WAS HATCHED
The series of Easter eggs created by Faberg?for the Russian imperial family are the most celebrated of all the jeweller's works, and are considered to be some of the last great objets d'art commissions.
The egg story began in 1885, when Tsar Alexander III gave a jewelled creation to his wife, the Empress Marie Feodorovna (Easter was the most important occasion of the year, according to the Russian Orthodox Church). Known as the Hen Egg, it was crafted from gold, the white enamelled 'shell' opening to reveal its first surprise: a yellow-gold yolk. This in turn opened to reveal a multi-coloured hen that also opened. Originally, this contained a tiny diamond replica of the Imperial Crown, from which a ruby pendant egg was suspended. Unfortunately, the last two surprises have been lost.
For the next 32 years until 1917, the egg tradition continued: they were private and personal gifts, with the series charting the romantic and tragic story leading up to the end of the mighty Romanovs.
Each egg took more than a year to make; skilled craftsmen working in secrecy were given complete freedom in their design, with the only prerequisite being there had to be a surprise in each. For inspiration, Faberg?often drew on family ties, events in court life, or the achievements of the Romanov dynasty - for example, the Fifteenth Anniversary Egg of 1911 commemorated the 15th anniversary of Nicholas II's accession to the throne, while the Romanov Tercentenary Egg of 1913 celebrated 300 years of the House of Romanov.
While the theme changed annually, the element of surprise remained a constant link. The hidden wonders ranged from a miniature replica of the Coronation carriage, pictured below (it took 15 months to make, with craftsmen working 16-hour days), to a mechanical swan, ivory elephant, and a heart-shaped frame on an easel with 11 miniature portraits of family members.
Of the 50 eggs Faberg?made for the imperial family from 1885 through to 1916, only 42 have survived.