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The Story Behind the Coveted Fabergé Eggs

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What is the most coveted Easter egg of all? The jeweled eggs made by the House of Fabergé. The Russian jewelry design house, which was initially known for its tableware and jewelry designs, garnered an longstanding fan in Czar Alexander III thanks to its works on display at the Moscow Pan-Russian Exhibition in 1882, who commissioned 38-year-old Carl Fabergé and his St. Petersburg family jewelry business to produce a surprise Easter gift for his wife, Empress Marie Fedorovna. The next Tsar, Nicholas II, ordered two eggs each year, one for his mother and one for his wife, Alexandra, and the tradition continued until the October Revolution.

Per Fabergé, each egg, "an artistic tour de force," took a year or more to make, involving a team of highly skilled craftsmen, who worked in the greatest secrecy. From 1887 Fabergé was given complete freedom in the design and execution, with the only prerequisite being that there had to be surprise within each creation. Dreaming up each complex concept, Fabergé often drew on family ties, events central to the Imperial Court, or the milestones and achievements of the Romanov dynasty, as in the Fifteenth Anniversary Egg of 1911, commemorating the fifteenth anniversary of Nicholas II’s accession to the throne, or the Romanov Tercentenary Egg of 1913 that celebrated 300 years of the House of Romanov.

Although the theme of the Easter eggs changed annually, the element of surprise remained a constant link between them. The surprises ranged from a perfect miniature replica of the Coronation carriage - that took 15 months to make working 16-hour days - through a mechanical swan and an ivory elephant, to a heart-shaped frame on an easel with 11 miniature portraits of members of the Imperial family.

After the revolution, the Fabergé family left Russia, and the Fabergé trademark and other associated intellectual property rights have been sold several times and several companies have retailed egg-related merchandise using the Fabergé name. For instance, the Victor Mayer jewelry company produced limited edition heirloom quality Fabergé eggs authorized under Unilever's license from 1998 to 2009.

As of now, the company is owned by Cayman Islands-based Fabergé Limited, which as of January 2007, owns the entire global portfolio of trademarks, licenses and associated rights relating to the Fabergé brand. The principal investor is Pallinghurst Resources LLP, an investment advisory firm based in London and chaired by Brian Gilbertson, the former CEO of mining company BHP-Billiton plc.

In September 2009, Fabergé Limited launched its first collection of exclusive jewelry, as well as its website. It maintains boutiques in Australia, Azerbaijian, Abu Dhabi, Canada, Czech Republic, Bahrain, and plans to open a Fabergé shop in London and a retail location is also being sought in New York.

Where Are They Today?

Of the Fabergé eggs created, the majority – 50 eggs – were made for Russian Tsars, and of the 57 eggs in existence today, the majority are owned by museums and other collections worldwide, with 10 in private collections. The Winter Egg, designed by Alma Pihl, famed for her series of diamond snowflakes, is made of carved rock crystal as thin as glass. This is embellished with engraving, and ornamented with platinum and diamonds, to resemble frost.

The egg rests on a rock-crystal base designed as a block of melting ice. Its surprise is a magnificent and platinum basket of exuberant wood anemones. The flowers are made from white quartz, nephrite, gold and demantoid garnets and they emerge from moss made of green gold. Its overall height is 14.2cm. It is set with 3,246 diamonds. The egg sold at Christie’s in New York in 2002 for $9.6 million.

These rare, million-dollar Easter eggs have found their way into collections, museums and institutions across the world, from Moscow to Cleveland. For example, the Hen Egg is now part of the Vekselberg Collection (named for Russian oil and metal mogul Viktor Vekselberg, who purchased nine eggs from the Forbes family in 2004), and currently housed in the 18-month-old Fabergé Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Not all of the eggs have been located, however, and seven are currently thought to be lost. Until 2015, that number was believed to be eight. Another egg came to light after a scrap metal dealer perusing a flea market in the American Midwest came upon a gold egg on an intricately designed stand. Inside was a gold clock with diamond-encrusted hands. Thinking he could make at least a few hundred dollars profit by melting it down and selling the gold, he purchased the item for $14,000.

Despite his rather large investment, potential buyers told him the gold was jot worth what he paid. The man (who has remained anonymous) left the egg in his kitchen, thinking he had just thrown $14,000 away, until one day he got curious enough to Google the name on the back of the clock—“Vacheron Constantin.” After a bit more digging, he came upon this 2011 Telegraph article about the Third Imperial Easter Egg. That’s when he discovered this gold egg wasn’t worth $14,000; it was worth millions.

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