Fabergé eggs have long been symbols of craftsmanship, prestige, and ultimately tragedy. They’re intimately associated with the Russian royal family and tell a story of the power and decadence that would seal the fate of the Romanovs. The eggs have since been traded, smuggled, and sold at auction for eye-watering sums. Here are a few facts about the history of Fabergé’s extraordinary eggs.
1. The Fabergé family was originally from France.
The ancestors of the Fabergé family used the surname Favri and were originally from the Picardy area of northern France. They were Protestants (known as Huguenots) in a largely Catholic country. As such, their position became increasingly precarious after 1685, when King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, which had guaranteed religious toleration.
The Favris would subsequently join the 200,000 Huguenots who fled France in search of safety. Their name evolved as they went. The family used Favry, Fabri, and Fabrier before finally settling on Fabergé. All versions of the moniker derive from the Latin faber, meaning smith or maker, implying a long tradition of craftsmanship in the family. By 1800, Pierre Favry had settled in Pärnu, in modern-day Estonia. His son Gustav was born there in 1814.
2. Gustav Fabergé founded the Fabergé jewelry firm in 1842.
Gustav moved to Saint Petersburg, Russia, to study with some of Russia’s pre-eminent jewelers before opening his own shop on Bolshaya Morskaya. His eldest son, Peter Carl, was born in 1846. Gustav ensured he received the best education a budding goldsmith could have.
When Gustav retired in 1860, the young Carl was enrolled in a trade school in Dresden, before undertaking a grand tour, visiting jewelers and museums in England, France, and Italy. On returning to Saint Petersburg at the age of 18, Carl continued his education both in the Fabergé workshops and at the Hermitage Museum. By 1872 he was more than ready to take over the business.
3. The Tsar Alexander III ordered an ornate Easter egg as a gift for the Tsarina Maria Feodorovna.
Exchanging eggs at Easter was a long-standing custom for Russian Orthodox Christians in the 19th century. Tsar Alexander III was following tradition when he ordered a jeweled egg from Fabergé as a gift for Maria Feodorovna in 1885. Known as the Hen Egg, it was made of white enamel with a gold band around its middle. The egg hid a dazzling surprise: a perfect yolk, made of gold. Inside was a golden hen containing a diamond miniature of the imperial crown, which in turn concealed a tiny ruby pendant. The impressive specimen is now in the Fabergé Museum in Saint Petersburg.
4. Fabergé bore the title "Supplier to the Imperial Court."
The Tsarina was so delighted by the egg that this one-off gift became an annual tradition. Fifty Imperial Easter eggs were given as gifts to the Tsarinas Maria Feodorovna and Alexandra from Alexander III and Nicholas II.
Bearing the title “Supplier to the Imperial court,” Fabergé gradually acquired greater freedom in the design of the annual commission. There were only three rules to follow: Each Easter gift should be egg-shaped; designs should not be repeated; and each egg should contain a surprise. Fabergé liked to keep the progress of each egg under wraps, replying to enquiries with a reassuring, “Your Majesty will be pleased.”
5. The Moscow Kremlin Egg was the largest Imperial Egg ever made.
The Moscow Kremlin Egg was inspired by the cathedral where Nicholas II had been crowned in 1896. The egg has a golden onion dome, and tiny windows in its shell give a view of the cathedral’s faithfully rendered interior. At over 14 inches high, it is the largest Imperial egg, as well as the most ambitious.
The story of this egg hints of what was to come for the Russian royal family. It was originally meant to be presented in 1904, but the order was canceled due to the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905 and the waves of revolution that swept the country at this time. The egg was finally presented in 1906.
6. Alma Pihl, one of Fabergé’s few women employees, designed the stunning Winter Egg.
Alma Pihl came from a family of master jewelers. She was one of the few women to work as a designer in Saint Petersburg in the early 20th century. She would go on to design some of Fabergé’s most striking jewelry and two Imperial Easter Eggs.
Inspired by the frost-covered windows in her uncle Albert Holmström’s workshop in the Fabergé complex one freezing winter day, Pihl came up with a snowflake theme for jewelry for oil magnate Emanuel Nobel. She continued the theme when making the Winter Egg of 1913. It was the most expensive Fabergé egg ever made, costing 24,700 rubles.
Pihl also designed the intricate Mosaic Egg of 1914, now in the Royal Collection.
7. Fabergé’s only foreign branch opened in London in 1903.
British appreciation for the work of Fabergé began at the top. Queen Alexandra, the wife of King Edward VII, was introduced to the work of the famous jeweler by her sister, the Tsarina Maria Feodorovna. When the London location opened, she subsequently became a frequent visitor to the shop, along with other international monarchs, heiresses, and aristocrats. In keeping with its exclusive clientele, the London branch was discreet. It did not advertise and had no shopfront until 1911, when the branch moved to grand premises in New Bond Street.
The onset of the First World War and the Russian demand for repatriation of assets in 1915 signaled the beginning of the end for its international location. The Russian Revolution forced the business to close in February 1917.
8. Many Fabergé Eggs were confiscated after the Russian Revolution.
After the Russian Revolution—and the Romanovs’ deaths—the Fabergé family fled. The Bolsheviks grabbed many of the eggs the family had made for their royal clientele and stuffed them into storage at the Kremlin Armory. When Stalin seized power and tried to sell the country’s precious goods for Western currency, curators at the Armory attempted to hide the most valuable eggs. Armand Hammer, a wealthy entrepreneur, brought 10 of them to the U.S, hoping to sell them along with thousands of other piecs of Russian art.
9. The Rothschild Egg sold for a record price in 2007.
The previously unrecorded Rothschild Fabergé Egg sold at Christie’s for $18.5 million in November 2007. This was a record price for a Fabergé object at auction, a Russian object at auction, and for any timepiece at auction. One of the few eggs created to Imperial standards for private clients, it was ordered by Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild in 1902 as a gift for her future sister-in-law. Each hour, a cockerel pops out from the top, then flaps its mechanical wings and crows. The egg remained in the Rothschild family until it was auctioned in 2007. It was subsequently given to the Hermitage Museum by Vladimir Putin in 2015.
10. The Third Imperial Egg was re-discovered in 2014.
The Third Imperial Egg, a jeweled yellow gold egg with a Vacheron Constantin lady’s watch inside, dates from 1887. Long thought lost, it came to light in 2014 when it went on display at the art dealer Wartski in London. The egg was confiscated after the Russian Revolution, then somehow made its way to the United States. In 2011, researchers discovered it was auctioned without provenance (its history of sales and ownership) in New York in 1964, where it sold for $2450. At some point between then and 2012 it was bought by a scrap dealer in the Midwest. Unable to resell it for more than he had paid—$13,302—the scrap dealer finally resorted to Google and discovered that he had a Fabergé egg on his shelf.
11. Fabergé is still producing magnificent objects.
The modern incarnation of Fabergé continues to produce exquisitely crafted, gloriously over-the-top jewels. From the Secret Garden High Jewellery Collection to unabashedly flamboyant eggs, Fabergé is inspired by both the past and the present.
The Centenary Egg, made in 2020, commemorated 100th anniversary of Peter Carl Fabergé's death. A dragon-inspired Game of Thrones egg brings the collection right up to date. It was a collaboration between Fabergé designer Liisa Tallgren and Michele Clapton, costume designer on Game of Thrones, and sold for $2.2 million in 2021.