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||Faberge Eggs...Still Full of Surprises By Anne Gilbert
||for the mystique surrounding them, but the surprises contained inside.
from the late Malcolm Forbes collection scheduled to hit the block in April, would mean more surprises than contained
inside the eggs themselves.
The announcement of any Faberge egg coming to market is always a cause for excitement...along with the discovery
of a new egg. Only 42 of the 50 eggs Faberge designed for the czars have been accounted for. (According to another
source, there were 56 original eggs, 44 still exist and two ar known only through photos.) The same holds true for
the presentation eggs he made for a limited number of his wealthiest patrons. Among them, American-born Consuelo
Vanderbilt, Duchess of Marlborough. That egg, incidentally, was the first purchased by Forbes.
The big surprise, and disappointment for collectors, came with the Feb. 5 press release by Sotheby's that the eggs
would all be in one Russian basket. They had been purchased directly from the Forbes family by Russian oil tycoon,
Viktor Vekselberg. The price not disclosed. (see below)
Of the nine eggs, the "Coronation Egg" was the most expensive. It was estimated by Sotheby's at $18 million to $24
million. Made in 1897 to commemorate Nicholas II's ascension to the throne, it is covered with gold and diamond
Faberge trellises and contains its own Royal Coach.
Aside from rarity, the Russian connection and use of precious gems and metals, there are more important reasons for
the astronomical prices. The workmanship alone would warrant them. But, add the mechanical skill of the interior
"surprises" that Faberge invented for most of his eggs, and it is easy to understand.
For instance, consider the "Orange Tree Egg." When one of the jeweled oranges is pressed, a tiny, feathered-gold
nightingale appears from the top of the tree, to sing and flap its wings.
Though Carl Faberge was born in Russia, his heritage is French...as are his decorative influences. His grandfather fled
Huguenot persecution in France and became a Russian subject. His father, Gustav Faberge began the family jewelry
business as a goldsmith and jeweler in St. Petersburg in 1842. Young Carl began his training in his father's
workshop, but was also apprenticed to a noted German goldsmith, in Frankfurt.
However, it was a subsequent tour of Italy and France, and the techniques of enamelers and goldsmiths that were to
influence his work. In 1870 at the age of 24 he took over his father's firm. By 1882 his unique, new style jewelry
won him the gold medal at Moscow's Pan-Russian Exhibition and the eye of Czar Alexander III.
The 1900 Exposition Internationale Universelle in Paris, brought Faberge International recognition, as well as the
Legion of Honor. Working with enamels, considered one of the most difficult processes, Faberge combined it with the
Guilloche process (a decorative band or border that resembles a line of interlocking circles). Today it is rarely used,
not only because of the cost, but the technical problems involved. Faberge is still the acknowledged master of
enameling a process where even a tiny mistake working with the enamels at high temperatures could ruin a fine
His eggs often combined materials that were equally difficult to work with. Among Faberge them various precious
and semi-precious stones, matte and translucent enamels and various shade of gold.
Many of the Imperial eggs were personalized. One, the "Lilies of the Valley Egg" contained portraits of Nicholas,
Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana.
The egg tradition began when he began creating decorative Easter gifts, such as pendants and various objets d'art, in
the form of tiny eggs which were popular in the 1880s. In 1884 Czar Alexander III asked him to create an unusual
Easter gift for his wife, Empress Maria Feodorovna.
The design of the first of the Imperial eggs was relatively simple. it contained a golden yoke, which in turn, held a
tiny gold hen figurine. The czarina was so pleased that the czar commissioned Faberge to begin the tradition, as long
as each egg contained a hidden surprise.
Some of the eggs were so complicated that they took years to complete. The Renaissance Egg is encrusted with
rubies, diamonds and emeralds with gold over enamel. The egg known as The Pinecone stands out because of its
translucent blue enamel and diamond detailing.
In 1896 when Nicholas II came to the throne he continued the tradition, adding one for his mother, the Dowager
Empress as well as his czarina, Alexandra Fedorovna.
The end of the Faberge tradition came with the outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. His work, done for the
aristocracy and the wealthy became unpopular.
He fled to Switzerland and died there in 1920. Sadly, it was not until the last decade that his work once again
became popular, and his genius newly appreciated...even in Russia.
Prices have come a long way since the czar paid Faberge the equivalent of $250 in dollars for the Winter Egg. When
it was last sold at auction in 2002 the price was more than $9.5 million. The egg of rock crystal was commissioned
by the nephew of Alfred Nobel.It was a jeweled silver-mounted enamel Easter Egg containing a jeweled platinum and
rock crystal "surprise"...a jeweled, platinum and rock crystal pendant watch.
According to Faberge's original account book, one of the most expensive eggs he ever produced was the "Winter
Egg." Made of finely carved, transparent rock crystal, the egg contained a "surprise" rose-diamond basket of spring
flowers. The exterior of the egg was embellished with over 3,000 diamonds.
They may not have been made by Faberge but there are many types of old, decorated eggs that are interesting and
collectible. Decorative eggs were made in a wide range of materials from the late 19th to mid-19th centuries.
Victorian eggs made of milk glass had painted and gilded decorations. Tin and cardboard eggs and bunny figures, first
made in the early 20th century, once held candy. Glass hen and egg dishes, originally made in the late 19th century
came in colors as well as white and colorless glasses. Painted wood eggs were a tradition in Russia and Ukraine and
are still being made. There are also hollowed out, decorated eggs that were a popular craft beginning in the 1950s.
Wait! You can have an affordable Faberge egg after all. Theo Faberge, a descendent, made decorative eggs of wood
in the 1980s. When they come to auction prices range from $200 up.
@Headline Style:Faberge Eggs Home to Russia for Easter
@Body:Viktor Vekselberg, the Russian industrialist who purchased the Forbes Faberge collection, plans to have the
collection back in Russia in time for Easter - April 11 this year in both the Russian Orthodox and Christian calenders,
according to an article in The New York Times.
Yekaterinburg, where Czar Nicholas II and his family were murdered, is one of the locations he most hoped to
display the eggs. His Siberian-Urals Aluminum company has major holdings near Yekaterinburg; it is intended that
the collection will be shown in regions across Russia where his companies operate.
While acknowledging he paid more than the $90 million minimum auction estimate, the aluminum and oil tycoon
declined to be more specific about what he paid the estate of Malcolm Forbes for the nine Imperial Easter eggs and
about 180 other pieces.
The Russian government reportedly lifted the taxes, said to be 30 percent of the price, and duties required from
private collectors to bring artworks into Russia.
A permanent location for the collection is yet to be determined. Both the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg,
and the Kremlin Museums, Moscow, are interested in becoming the permanent home for the collection. With 10
Faberge Easter eggs, the Kremlin Armory currently has the largest collection in the world. The Cathedral of Christ the
Savior in Moscow is one of the churches also being mentioned as a potential permanent home.
Vekselberg created a foundation to buy the Forbes collection and said he would like to use it to acquire and return
other cultural treasures.