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Faberge Imperial Easter Eggs

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Faberge: The world's most expensive eggs

Unfortunately, the closest most of us will get to a genuine Faberge egg will be at a museum, separated by security glass. How pricey are these eggs of the czars? Christie's auction house claims the record for the sale of a single work by Faberge -- the Winter Egg --, which sold in 1994 for $5.5 million. Although the court jeweler, Peter Carl Faberge produced many different objets d'art, forty-nine imperial Easter eggs remain the most treasured of all.

Easter was a great time in Russia during Carl Faberge's days. "Everybody kissed everybody else, and said: 'Christ is risen'; receiving in reply the words: 'Verily He is risen'; and everybody gave everybody else a present," wrote H.C. Bainbridge, a close friend of Faberge. "Easter eggs took first place as the age-old symbol of resurrection, new life and hopefulness. Everything was adapted to the shape of them."

Czar Alexander III presented the first Faberge egg in 1886 as an Easter gift to his wife, Czarina Maria Feodorovna. This sparked a yearly tradition among Russian czars for the next three decades, until the demise of the imperial court.

The Easter projects were considered a top priority, and were planned and worked on a year or longer in advance. To pique the czar's interest, the eggs themselves always contained a series of surprises, sometimes even mechanical mechanisms.

Interestingly enough, Faberge did not actually create any of the famous eggs that bear his name. His business was divided into several small workshops, each with its own specialty. In addition to the Easter eggs, the workshop also produced table silver, jewelry, European-style trinkets, and Russian-style carvings. Michael Evlampievich Perchin and Henrik Wigstrom were the two master jewelers primarily responsible for the Faberge eggs. Born in 1860, Perchin became the leading jeweler in the House of Faberge in 1886 and supervised production of the eggs until 1903. Those eggs he was responsible for have his "MP" markings. All signed eggs made after 1903 bear Henrik Wigstrom's "HW" mark.

The Faberge family originated in France, but fled because of religious persecution. Eventually, some family members settled in Russia. Born in 1846, Carl attended school and received a goldsmith apprenticeship in Germany. By age 24, Faberge had inherited his father's jewelry workshop in St. Petersburg, Russia. For ten years as head of the business, Carl continued to produce goods similar to other jewelry makers. He also volunteered his time to the Hermitage, which stored precious objects of the Russian czars. Carl helped catalog, appraise and repair the pieces.

In 1882 Carl's and his younger brother, Agathon, began to make copies of ancient Russian treasures. At a Moscow fair, Czar, Alexander III, and his wife, Czarina Maria made a purchase at the Faberge brother's exhibit. There, Carl Faberge was presented with a gold medal honoring him as "...having opened a new era in jewelry art."

As goldsmithing became Carl Faberge's primary interest, he hired Perchin to assist him in experiments with gold and enamel. Through careful examination of works of art, the two learned and attempted to replicate techniques of earlier artisans. Their efforts were so successful that even the czar could not distinguish between an original snuffbox from his own collection and Faberge's copy. Faberge became the supplier to the Imperial Court.

Faberge's firm reached its height during the reigns of czars Alexander III and Nicholas II, when it employed more than five hundred artisans. In 1887, a branch was established in Moscow, another in Kiev in 1905 and a London branch in 1906.

During the Revolutions of 1917, the firm began to collapse. The Bolsheviks closed it down in 1918. Carl Faberge went into exile, and died two years later in Switzerland.


The most expensive eggs in the world.

The five-inch high Coronation Egg, 1897, rates as one of Faberge's most popular. Translucent yellow enamel is applied to a golden field of starbursts on the surface. The egg is trellised with bands of gold laurel. Opaque, black-enameled Imperial eagles appear at each trellis intersection; each eagle carries a small diamond on its chest.

The surprise in this egg is a miniature coronation coach, which took 15 months to fabricate. The Faberge jewelers recreated the red lacquer and upholstery of the original coach with bright enamel. The gilt coach frame was reproduced in gold, the iron wheel rims in platinum, and glass windows in etched rock crystal.

Made between 1885 and 1890, "Resurrection" is another of Faberge's masterpieces; exquisitely made in the manner of the Italian Renaissance. The three gold figures in the group are enameled en ronde bosse - white drapery and lilac-colored wings. The grass and the ground on which the group is arranged are enameled pale green and brown with yellow flecks, and a narrow belt of rose diamonds surrounds the base.

The door is enameled to simulate marble with a coral-colored handle. The whole Resurrection scene is contained within a carved rock crystal egg, the two hemispheres held together by a line of rose diamonds. A large pearl serves as the shaft for this egg.

Many of the Imperial egg designs were inspired by historical art works that Faberge imitated or copied from his travels to the Hermitage. Others represent the events of their time. There were eggs to commemorate the coronation of Czar Nicholas II and the completion of the Trans Siberian Railway. There were eggs portraying the Imperial yacht-Standard, the Uspensky Cathedral, and the Gatchina Palace.

Faberge's master jewelers experimented with limited enameling techniques of their time and developed a palette of over 140 shades to work from. The most prized of these was oyster enamel, which varied in color depending on the light. Faberge combined enameled pieces with a medley of metals -- including silver, gold, copper, nickel, and palladium -- achieving colorful conclusions.

Another technique used by Faberge was guilloche, a surface treatment that could make waves and striations in the design and could be done by machine or by hand. Finally, Faberge added natural stones often found in abundance in the area. Precious stones, including sapphires, rubies and emeralds were applied for decoration, and when used they were en cabochon (round cut). Diamonds were typically rose-cut.

Many of Faberge's treasures remain in Russia. The Armoury Chamber, one of the oldest and richest museums of the Moscow Kremlin, houses a Faberge collection including watches, cigarette-cases, jewelry, table silver, tea-sets and coffee-sets, settings of crystal vases, miniature sculptures of non-precious stones. Ten Faberge eggs are also displayed there.

During the famine of 1921, a wealthy young American physician, Armand Hammer, went to Russia as a volunteer relief worker, and brought out the greatest private collection of Faberge pieces in existence today. A connoisseur of art, Dr. Hammer soon saw that some treasures in danger of being lost during the political upheaval. Along with paintings by great masters, he collected several hundred pieces of Faberge's finest creations. Through direct negotiations with the government, Dr. Hammer was also able to purchase 11 of Faberge's priceless imperial Easter eggs.

Read more about the house of Faberge:

  • Carl Faberge; Goldsmith to the Imperial Court of Russia
    A. Kenneth Snowman /Hardcover/Published 1998
  • Faberge: Fantasies & Treasures
    Geza Von Habsburg-Lothringen, et al /Hardcover/Published 1996
  • The Faberge Case: From the Private Collection of John Traina
    John Traina, et al /Hardcover/Published 1998
  • Faberge Eggs: Imperial Russian Fantasies
    Christopher Forbes, et al /Paperback/Published 1995
  • Faberge Eggs: Masterpieces from Czarist Russia
    Susanna Pfeffer, et al /Hardcover/Published 1995
  • The Faberge Imperial Easter Eggs
    Tatiana Faberge, et al /Hardcover/Published 1997
  • Russian Enamels: Kievan Rus to Faberge
    Anne Odom, William R. Johnston (Introduction) /Hardcover/Published 1996

A quick look at Limoges

Many gift shops and mail order catalogs feature Limoges products. Many people are surprised to learn that Limoges is not the name of a single manufacturer. Rather, it's the name of a small industrial town in the center of France. In the 18th century, major deposits of high quality kaolin clay were discovered there. Consequently, the region quickly grew famous for its production of artistic porcelain plates, cups, thimbles, inkwells, miniatures and boxes.

Most of the Limoge boxes you've seen are produced with a mold. The lid and body are then dried and fired in a kiln. The porcelain is glazed and to fired a second time. In this process, the box loses some volume; thus no two boxes are identical in size. Depending on quality, the boxes are decorated either by hand -- or a printed decorated may be applied. Finally, the top and bottom are joined with a hinge.

At a minimum, several thousand Limoge boxes exist and the number is growing every day.