How the Imperial Fabergé Egg Came to Be One of the Most Sought-After Pieces of Art

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The history of these priceless pieces of decorative art is just as fascinating as the precious eggs themselves.

"Fabergé today takes forward the spirit and ethos of my great-grandfather Peter Carl Fabergé who described himself as an 'artist jeweler' [...]Our heritage is paramount, and we can look back at an eclectic past to draw inspiration to create pieces for today's clients," says Sarah Fabergé, special projects director at the iconic company.

Peter Carl Faberge at his desk
Courtesy Historical Picture Archive

It's difficult to overstate the importance and role of Fabergé in the history of the decorative arts. No other jewelry company has achieved such cultural significance and worldwide popularity. It all goes back to the Russian-born Peter Carl Fabergé, a goldsmith who at 26, after having apprenticed all over Western Europe and then worked at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, joined his father's small jewelry shop. Over the next years, the master goldsmith would create stunning pieces that eventually caught the eye of Russia's Tsar, Alexandre III, who in 1885 appointed the House of Fabergé official goldsmith of the Imperial Crown. That same year, Alexandre III commissioned Peter Carl Fabergé to create an Easter egg to be gifted to his wife, Empress Maria Fedorovna.

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Fabergé delivered an opaque white enameled egg that opens to reveal a gold yolk. Like a Russian doll, the egg yolk contained another surprise—an enameled chased gold hen that held a replica of the Imperial Crown and a ruby pendant egg. The Tsar was so impressed that the tradition of Fabergé eggs was born—one that would define the legacy of Peter Carl Fabergé and the House of Fabergé. In the next three decades, until the Bolsheviks took over Russia, Fabergé would make 50 Easter eggs for the Romanovs, each more beautiful and artfully executed than the last. This collection is known as the Imperial Egg Collection. And while during that same period, the House of Fabergé would produce some 150,000 objects, it is those decorative Easter eggs, of which 40 have survived, that will capture the imagination of generations to come. Each of them usually took between one to two years to make and would require the work of several craftsmen.

Carl Faberge's Lost Third Imperial Easter Egg Goes On Display
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Estimating the value of Fabergé eggs is not an easy task as so few of them have come up for auction, and the whereabouts of many are still shrouded in mystery. In 2014, the Third Imperial Easter Egg—a yellow gold egg standing on a richly decorated pedestal—was sold at an auction in London for an undisclosed sum, but experts estimated its value at $33 million, making it the most expensive Fabergé egg. Even when Peter Carl Fabergé was creating these precious decorative objects, they still commanded eye-popping prices. In 1913, Tsar Nicholas II gifted his mother the Winter Egg that cost 24,600 roubles, or about $2.5 million today. Nowadays, the House of Fabergé continues to create exquisite objects d'art and jewelry, often drawing inspiration from its iconic Easter eggs.

"The Fabergé Peacock Egg is a good example of how we look to our heritage to create something new. This egg inspired today's award-winning Compliquée Peacock watch," explains Sarah Fabergé, who grew up exploring different art forms encouraged by her father Theo.

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"When I was 16, he took me to Russia to see the work of our ancestors in The Hermitage, St Petersburg. I didn't really appreciate the impact or significance of Fabergé until then, which was a turning point for me."

Sarah's favorite design is actually a contemporary one and a beautiful example of how the company masterfully reimagines its signature egg designs as modern creations.

"I really love our Fabergé Essence Rose Gold Blue Sapphire Forget-Me-Not Surprise Locket. Simple rose gold on the outside with a small nature study inside. Reminiscent of Fabergé of the past but with a light, contemporary feel," she added.

Now, peruse some of the most magnificent Imperial Eggs by Fabergé.

The Winter Egg, 1913

This is considered the most expensive Fabergé egg when it was created. It was made from crystal shaped like melting ice and was a gift from Nicholas II to his mother.

The Hen Egg, 1885

The Hen Egg, 1885
Courtesy Forbes Collection

The first Easter egg design is believed to have been inspired by a piece of 18th-century jewelry and measures about 2.5 inches.

Renaissance Egg, 1894

Renaissance Egg, 1894
Courtesy Forbes Collection

Made from agate and decorated with a trellis of white enameled gold, diamonds, and rubies, the egg's design was inspired by a Renaissance-style oval agate casket by Le Roy.

Rosebud Egg, 1895

Rosebud Egg, 1895
Courtesy Forbes Collection

This is the first egg that Emperor Nicholas II presented to his wife after their marriage. It is crafted from gold and covered in translucent red guilloché enamel and rose-cut diamonds.

Coronation Egg, 1897

Coronation Egg, 1897
Courtesy Forbes Collection

Commemorating Empress Alexandra Feodorovna's coronation day, this egg's outer shell is made from yellow guilloché enamel embellished with yellow gold and black enamel double-headed eagles set with diamonds.

Lilies of the Valley Egg, 1898

Lilies of the Valley Egg, 1898
Courtesy Forbes Collection

This gorgeous Art Nouveau egg is set with pearls and diamonds modeled after Empress Alexandra Feodorovna's favorite flower—Lily of the valley.

Bay-Tree Egg, 1911

Bay-Tree Egg, 1911
Courtesy Forbes Collection

According to an old Fabergé invoice, the egg-shaped tree is comprised of "325 nephrite leaves, 110 opalescent white enamel flowers, 25 diamonds, 20 rubies, 53 pearls, 219 rose-cut diamonds, and one large rose-cut diamond."

Order of St George Egg, 1916

Order of St George Egg, 1916
Courtesy Forbes Collection

Created as a gift to Emperor Nicholas II's mother, this is one of the last two eggs Fabergé created for the Romanovs. It is set with portraits of Nicholas II and of his son, Alexei.