Faberge Eggs: A History
The most important feast of the Russian Orthodox church calendar is
Easter. It is celebrated with the exchanging of eggs and three kisses.
The Faberge eggs began in 1884 with an Easter egg made for the Czar
that became a gift for his wife, Czarina Maria.
The egg reminded the
empress of her homeland, and so from then on it was agreed that
Faberge would make an Easter egg each year for Maria.
Easter eggs for another eleven years until Alexander III died. Then
Nicholas II, Alexander's son, continued the tradition.
It was agreed
that the Easter gift would always have an egg shape and would hold a
surprise. These projects became top priority of the company and were
planned and worked on far in advance -- a year or longer. The surprise
was always kept secret.
The designs for the Imperial eggs were inspired by historical art
works that Faberge imitated or copied from his travels or from the Hermitage.
However, there is a poignant representation of what is now
Russian history in the design of a number of these eggs. There were
eggs to commemorate the coronation of Czar Nicholas
II, the completion
of the Trans Siberian Railway, and anniversaries.
There were eggs
depicting the Imperial yacht Standart, the Uspensky Cathedral, the
Gatchina Palace, and during the time of war, the Red Cross and the
Faberge's primary source of inspiration came from works of previous
centuries. Translucent enamelling was a valued technique in the
nineteenth century that required several coats of applied enamel and
the "firing" of the object in an oven after each coat.
However, only a small number of colors were used in the nineteenth
century, and so Faberge took it upon himself to experiment and soon
came up with over 140 shades. The most prized of these was oyster
enamel which varied in color depending on the light.
Materials used by Faberge included metals - silver, gold, copper,
nickel, palladium - that were combined in varying proportions to
produce different colors. Another technique used by eighteenth century
French goldsmiths and again Faberge involve a simple tinting of the
completed work using stones and enamel.
Another technique used by Faberge included guilloche, a
surface treatment that could make waves and striations in the design
and could be done by machine or by hand. Faberge used natural stones
often found in abundance in the area. These included jasper, bowenite,
rhodonite, rock crystal, agate, aventurine quartz, lapis lazuli, and
jade (nephrite mostly although he would sometimes use jadeite).
Precious stones including sapphires, rubies and emeralds were used
only for decoration, and when used they were en cabochon (round
cut). Diamonds were typically rose-cut. Semi-precious stones including
moonstones, garnets, olivines, and Mecca stones were used more often
Fifty six Imperial eggs were made, forty-four of which have been
located today and another two that are known to have been
photographed. Another twelve Easter eggs were commissioned by
Alexander Ferdinandovich Kelch, a Siberean gold mine owner. However,
the Imperial Easter egg collection commissioned by the last of the
Russian Czars is the most celebrated.