A bespoke symbol of royalty, Fabergé eggs are an embodiment of centuries of imperial history, artistic craftsmanship and gilded detailing. The rich tradition dates back to 1882 when Peter Carl Fabergé took over his father’s humble jewellery business. Under his adept leadership and vision, the then trend of using diamonds was broken and precious coloured gemstones made their way into ostentatious jewellery. This is how a league of Fabergé eggs was born. And, the period between 1885 and 1916, saw the production of some of the most expensive Fabergé eggs of all time. During these years, the brand also added “objets deluxe to their repertoire, including objets de fantaisie such as the Imperial Easter Eggs, now regarded as pinnacles of the goldsmiths’ art,” according to the Fabergé website.
As many as 50 opulent eggs were created for the Russian Imperial family linked to the glorious rise and tragic end of the last Romanov royal dynasty. Of these, ten were commissioned between 1885 to 1893, under the reign of Russian Tsar Alexander III for his wife Maria Feodorovna. Later, 40 more were created during the rule of his son, Tsar Nicholas II. The dutiful heir carried on his father’s tradition and gave one to his mother and wife as an Easter gift every year.
However, the production of these valuable Fabergé eggs was stopped in 1917, when the Russian monarchy was dissolved. According to the website, “Following the Russian Revolution, the House was taken over by a ‘Committee of the Employees of the Company K. Fabergé.’” Of these 50 expensive Fabergé eggs, only 43 survive — five are allegedly destroyed and two remain lost in the pages of time.
Despite its lost heritage, every expensive Fabergé egg is a piece of history that continues to hold immense value and fetch an enormous price. Mostly displayed at the Fabergé Museum, these expensive eggs are adorned with crystals, diamonds, precious and semi-precious stones, gold rococo work and enamel detailing.
Some of the most expensive Fabergé eggs with an interesting history
Third Imperial Easter Egg
Estimated value: USD 33 million
Perhaps the most expensive Fabergé egg to ever exist, the Third Imperial Egg was commissioned by Tsar Alexander III for his Empress Maria Feodorovna as a rich Easter present.
The egg is a solid 18-karat gold structure embellished with hand-crafted diamonds and sapphires. Three gold lion-claw corbel-like legs support the entire piece. Reportedly produced by workmaster August Holmström in 1887, the egg is a fine specimen of Russian aristocratic opulence and decadent choice.
The Third Imperial Easter Egg is made in the classical style of King Louis XVI. The style brought in the early French neo-classical era that focused on finesse and simplicity instead of baroque ornamentation.
The surprise element is unveiled by a small diamond clasp at the front. When pressed, it reveals a Vacheron Constantin lady’s watch with diamond-laden hands.
Besides all the gems and precious metals, what makes the Third Imperial Egg even more special and the most expensive Fabergé egg of all time is its rich history. It was believed to be lost or destroyed until an American scrap dealer found the missing Fabergé egg somewhere between 2011 and 2012 and bought it for USD 14,000 at a midwestern flea market.
In 2014, the Third Imperial Easter Egg was allegedly sold to a private collector.
Estimated price: USD 25 million
Commissioned in 1902 for Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild, this expensive Fabergé egg takes its name after the French socialite. Béatrice gifted it to Germaine Halphen on the latter’s betrothal to her brother, Édouard Alphonse James de Rothschild.
A gleaming pink enamel exterior makes this the gorgeous piece it is. Created using gold and silver, the egg is studded with diamonds and pearls and the structure has a very interesting surprise within. At the start of every hour, a diamond and gems-encrusted cockerel appears from the top, flaps its wings and bobs its head for nearly 15 seconds until a bell announces the beginning of a new hour.
This particular egg is one of the rare instances of an expensive Fabergé creation which was not made for the Russian royal family and that features a clock as well as an automaton. On 17 December 2014, President Vladimir Putin presented the Rothschild Egg to the Hermitage Museum on its 250th anniversary.
In 2007, the Rothschild Egg went under the hammer at a Christie’s auction and was bought by an anonymous bidder for a reported cost of USD 18.5 million.
Imperial Coronation Egg
Estimated price: USD 18 million
One of the most expensive Fabergé eggs in the world, the Imperial Coronation Easter Egg was created in 1897, as a gift from Tsar Nicholas II for his wife. The exquisite egg was the first of its kind to mark a political event — the arrival of the Queen in Moscow on 26 May and the day of their coronation at the Uspensky Cathedral.
Inspired by the lavish cloth of the gold royal robe she wore at the ceremony, the exterior of the ornate piece is made of multi-coloured gold and is studded with translucent yellow guilloché enamel and black enamel double-headed eagles set with diamonds. This resembles the gold brocade mantles of the gown and elevates the entire royal look about it.
On top, there is also a lattice of black enamel eagles with diamonds, connected by green gold leaves. A flat rose-cut diamond is also embedded into its upper half. The rock encases the Empress’ initials — the ‘A’ is made of diamonds and the ‘F’ of rubies. The bottom is set with several small rose-cut diamonds and the year 1897 is inscribed as well.
This royal Easter egg opens to reveal a small but exact replica of the royal carriage which carried the Queen to the event. Built by Johann Conrad Bukendal in 1793 for Catherine II, it was used for coronations. A breathtaking masterpiece in itself, the red enamel and a diamond replica has the same open doors, wheels, foldable step chairs and shock absorbers. A miniature Imperial crown also sits on its top. Every minute detail of the real carriage has been carefully studied and incorporated into this version. Crafted by a young Georg Stein, the coach took nearly 13 months to be completed.
According to the Fabergé Museum website, the laconic invoice for the Imperial Coronation Egg which was sent to the King, dated 18 April 1897 said, “Egg of yellow enamel and carriage.” It was priced at 5,500 rubles and has been put on display at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg several times. Reportedly, billionaire Viktor Vekselberg purchased it in 2004, and it is a part of his private collection.
Estimated price: USD 15.6 million
The Winter Egg was commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II for his mother in 1913.
The egg structure is set on a translucent rock-crystal base, fitted with platinum and rose-diamond rivulets resembling a melting iceberg — something just a master artist like Peter Carl Fabergé can create. The egg, which is detachable and made of rock-crystal, is mounted on the base by a pin. The structure features 1660 gem-quality diamonds and platinum rims which border the hinge of the egg and are tied at the top to a cabochon moonstone painted with the year 1913 at the back.
Its surprise element is an equally stunning piece. When the egg is opened vertically, the egg reveals a small 8.2 cm tall dainty basket of anemones set on a bed of gold moss. Each anemone is carved out of a single piece of white quartz with stems and stamens made of gold wire. At the centre of every anemone are the demantoid garnet and the flowers are shaped like a bud (half-bloomed). In between the beautiful flowers, green nephrite leaves also peek out.
The basket itself is also a piece of marvellous art — suspended from a platinum hook, it is a double-handed trelliswork piece of platinum and diamonds.
At the time of commission, it cost 24,700 rubles. It was auctioned for USD 7.8 million by Christie’s in 1994 and again for USD 9.6 million (GBP 6.6 million) in 2002, which created a record at the time. The Winter Egg is reportedly part of the Emir of Qatar’s private collection.
Bay Tree Egg
Estimated price: USD 15 million
Ranked among the top most expensive Fabergé eggs in the world, the Bay Tree Egg is a companion piece to the Fifteenth Anniversary Egg and is in no way short of a natural bonsai plant. With a solid tree trunk, green foliage, flowers and a sweet surprise — this egg is master craftsmanship at its best.
A gift from Tsar Nicholas II to his mother, the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, in 1911, the egg is covered with 325 thick Sayan nephrite leaves which have a dark spinach-green hue and are trimmed to fit the shape. The verdure is given a refreshing touch by interspersed fruits of pink and yellow-orange amethyst and citrine. Also peeking through the leaves are 110 tiny white enamel flowers. The Fabergé website mentions that it has “25 diamonds, 20 rubies, 53 pearls, 219 rose-cut diamonds and one large rose-cut diamond.”
By turning a tiny level, hidden as one of the fruits, some of the leaves on top open and a nestled multicoloured songbird comes out. The feathered bird flaps its wings, opens its beak, sings, turns around and then goes back inside. The whole structure is placed in a precious square pot, just as plants were done in those days.
The Fabergé Bay Tree Egg is reportedly possessed by Vekselberg and can be seen at the Fabergé Museum in St. Petersburg. This can also be considered a coronation egg as 1911 marks the 30th accession anniversary of the Dowager Empress.
Fifteenth Anniversary Egg
Estimated price: USD 12-15 million
The second Imperial Easter egg of 1911, the famous Fifteenth Anniversary Egg was a gift from Tsar Nicholas II to his wife Alexandra Feodorovna. What makes this particular ornate Fabergé egg so special is that it marks 15 years of the Tsar’s coronation.
The couple ascended the throne in 1894 but was officially crowned two years later at the Cathedral of the Dormition in the Moscow Kremlin. The year 1911 is mentioned on the outer enamel shell, in an oval medallion beneath a convex rock crystal plaque. The Empress’ initials — AØ — with a crown are also inscribed on both ends of the egg under flat and special cut diamonds.
The outer gold shell gold is adorned with lustrous white and green enamel on guilloché and has eighteen segments; each segregated by relief enamel garlands of green with diamond ties. The eggshell has precious miniature frames which are splendidly painted by Vasily Zuev using watercolour on ivory and covered with rock crystal.
Of these, seven are portraits of the royal family featuring Tsar Nicholas II, his wife and their five children. The others are frames of certain important royal events.
The Fifteenth Anniversary Egg is one Imperial egg that doesn’t have any surprises within. Therefore, the solid precious work on its body makes it the masterpiece that it is. A companion piece to the Bay Tree Egg, this piece also comes with a gold base.
Lilies of the Valley Egg
Estimated price: USD 13 million
One of the two Fabergé eggs in the world to be made in the classic Art Nouveau style, the Lilies of the Valley Egg is the perfect blend of delicate craftsmanship and extravagance. The Empress was particularly fond of this then ‘latest style,’ and some of the private apartments of the Tsar and his wife at the Alexander Palace were also redone in the Art Nouveau style by architect Robert Friedrich Meltzer.
Another brilliant piece commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II, the Lilies of the Valley Egg is drenched in translucent pink guilloché enamel and embellished with vertical friezes of rose-cut diamonds. Dainty branches carry soft flower motifs which are created with pearls and diamond petals. There are also green gold leaves and diamond dew drops to accentuate the natural element. Lilies of the Valley are an emblem of purity, youth and innocence, and were the Empress’ favourite.
A very touching surprise element makes this one of the most expensive Fabergé eggs of all time. When a pearl button is pushed, three miniature watercolour paintings of the Tsar and his two daughters Olga and Tatiana, by miniaturist Johannes Zeingraph, appear from within. These portraits are further topped with a diamond and ruby crown.
This Fabergé egg is reportedly part of Viktor Vekselberg’s collection and can be seen at the Fabergé Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
Order of St. George Egg
Estimated price: USD 7 million
One of the most exquisite Fabergé designs of all time, the Order of St. George Egg was the last egg Tsar Nicholas II gifted his mother in 1916. This egg lacks the radiance seen on other Imperial eggs and is also devoid of precious metals and stones as it was made during World War I.
Set against a dimmed-down steely appearance, the egg is made of silver and matte opalescent white enamel. Miniature watercolour paintings of the Emperor and his son Alexei are also placed on it. A badge of the Order of St. George (the highest Russian military recognition of the time) and a silver medal of the same Order conceal them respectively. All these are entwined by black and orange St. George enamel ribbon in the shades of gunpowder and flames.
Monograms of Maria Feodorovna are embedded on both ends. While there might not be any surprises in this egg or any ornate work, it is the only egg that the Dowager Empress took with her during her exile.
It is reportedly part of Vekselberg’s collection and is placed at the Fabergé Museum.
First Hen Egg
Estimated price: USD 6 million
The First Hen Egg holds an irreplaceable position in history as the first Imperial Easter egg created by the house of Fabergé in 1885. Commissioned by Emperor Alexander III, the first Fabergé egg comprises three scintillating layers, each more fascinating than the other.
Replicating an actual hen’s egg, this Easter egg has an opaque white enamelled outer ‘shell.’ When opened with a slight twist, a solid matte yellow gold ‘yolk’ seems to ooze out. But there’s more to the egg’s surprise. A final twist to the yolk reveals an enamelled chased gold hen, which further encased a replica of the Imperial crown and a ruby pendant. However, both of these stunning items are now missing.
It was supposed to be modelled on the 18th-century French Easter egg, but the Tsar himself co-authored the egg with Peter Carl Fabergé and gave the world this reimagined version. The royal couple was delighted with the artistry that the Tsar ordered one such Easter egg every year.
This expensive First Hen Egg is showcased at the Fabergé Museum.
Estimated price: USD 4 million
One of the most gilded Easter gifts from the Russian royal collection, the Rosebud Egg is an emblem of love, passion and delicate artistry. It was presented in 1895, the first time Fabergé made two eggs — one for the young Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, and the other for Princess Alice of Great Britain and Ireland. This is also the first egg that Tsar Nicholas II gifted his bride.
Created by Mikhail Perkhin under the guidance of Peter Carl Fabergé, the dazzling Fabergé egg flaunts diamond-set Cupid’s arrow motifs denoting love. The shell, made of multi-coloured gold, is covered with red guilloché enamel and ornamented by four rows of rose-cut diamonds. The exterior also has exquisite garlands of leaves and wreaths in greenish gold which appear to be tied with ribbons.
Two large flat diamonds also sit on either end. Below the top rock is a miniature portrait of Tsar Nicholas II while the date, 1894, is inscribed at the bottom.
Nestled within it is a beautiful yellow enamel tea rose carefully placed in a short stem which, when pressed, opens the petals. But that is not where it ends. The rosebud also housed a miniature diamond-clad crown with cabochon rubies but it is lost in antiquity.
Reportedly, Vekselberg owns this egg as well which is displayed at the Fabergé Museum in Russia’s Saint Petersburg.
(Main and Featured image credit: Fabergé)