Fabergé Easter Eggs Were Tokens of Love

Lily of the Valley Egg. Nicholas II gave it to Empress Alexandra in 1898. When a pearl at the top is twisted, family portraits pop up (in diamond-studded frames). Image Source

Easter Eggs and Tokens of Love

I’m sure you’ve seen images of those fabulous Fabergé eggs gleaming with gold, and dripping with diamonds. But did you know that they were created as Russian Easter egg love tokens?

Tsar Alexander III adored his wife, Empress Maria Feodorovna, and loved nothing more than pleasing her. So, in 1885 when he wanted to give her a special Easter gift, a boiled and painted egg just wouldn’t do the trick. A chocolate one might have been a bit better, but the Tsar had something more expensive in mind.

The Mosaic Egg, 1914. Gift from Nicholas II to Alexandra. The mosaic pattern is made of precious gems, and the surprise is a cameo profile portrait of the five Imperial children. This egg is now owned by the British Monarchy. Image source

A Special Gift

He wanted to surprise his wife with a romantic ruby necklace. So, he went to see Peter Carl Fabergé. Fabergé was a master goldsmith, and his company was known for its fine jewelry and art objects. The Tsar explained what he wanted––something unique, special, surprising… 

After chatting for a while, they came up with the idea of putting the necklace inside an egg. It was an old Russian tradition to exchange eggs on Easter day, so what better way to present an Easter gift than inside an Easter egg? And so, the first idea for a Fabergé egg was hatched. The master jeweler set about thinking of ways to make this egg a very special one.

Known as the Hen Egg, this was the first egg Fabergé created for the Tsar. Alexander III presented it to his wife in 1885 Image source

What he came up with was an egg that seemed rather plain––especially compared to his later creations. The exterior of this first egg was made of white enamel and resembled a real egg––except for a gold band running around its middle. However, this little unassuming egg was full of surprises. When it was opened, it revealed surprise number 1, a real gold yolk. And inside the gold yolk was surprise number 2, a gold hen. And yes, inside the gold hen was the third and final surprise, a ruby necklace on a gold chain.

Renaissance Egg, 1894. From Alexander III to Maria. The surprise that was inside has been lost. Image source

She Loves It

Needless to say, the Empress was impressed and thrilled with her Easter egg. She had a wonderful time opening it and finding one surprise after another. Her husband was so happy to have found the perfect gift, that he decided to present her with a special egg every Easter. He gave Fabergé the task of coming up with a new design each year.

A Tradition Begins

And every Easter for the next 10 years, the Tsar presented his wife with a wonderful egg, beautifully designed by Fabergé. Each egg was more exquisite than the one before. They were amazing works of art, expertly crafted from a variety of precious materials: gold, diamonds, pearls, gems… Several even incorporated tiny portraits of the imperial family into the design.

Rosebud Egg, 1895. This was the first egg that Nicholas II presented to his new wife, Alexandra. Inside was a yellow rosebud, and inside that was a diamond-studded crown and a ruby necklace. Image source

A New Tsar

Then in 1894, Tsar Alexander III died. It looked like Empress Maria’s exquisite Easter egg collection was complete. But her son Nicholas, the new Tsar, picked up where his father left off. He must have had fond memories of watching his mother open her special Easter eggs, and he decided to keep up the tradition. So, his first Easter as Tsar, he ordered two of those special Fabergé eggs: one for his mother and one for his new wife. He continued that tradition for the next 20 years.

The End

Then, sadly, it all came to an end. Fifty eggs, in all, had been produced for the Imperial Family between 1885 and 1916. Fabergé was at work on two more eggs for 1917, when the Russian Revolution broke out, and those eggs were never finished. Tsar Nicholas abdicated in 1917, and in July 1918, the entire family was executed.

Left: Bouquet of Lilies Clock, 1899, from Nicholas II to Alexandra. The arrow on the front points to the Roman numerals on the white enamel band that rotates to tell the time. The surprise is missing. Image source Right: Basket of Flowers, 1901, from Nicholas II to Alexandra. No known surprise in this one which is now owned by the British Monarchy. Image source

  Fabergé’s workshop was seized and nationalized, and the master craftsman and his family fled Russia. As for those amazing Easter eggs, 10 ended up in Moscow’s Museum, and others were sold around the world and are now in museums and private collections. Three are owned by the British Monarchy, and eight of them disappeared altogether. Today, these elegant Imperial Easter eggs are worth millions.

My Easter egg with a surprise inside

I don’t plan to spend millions on an Easter egg, but I rather like the tradition of getting gifts inside an egg. So when I walked by the window of a local shop and saw the one above, I had to have it. It’s not Fabergé (in case you couldn’t tell), but, like those Russian Imperial eggs, it does contain a ‘surprise’ inside. It’s filled with Earl Grey teabags. And even though there are no jewels in sight, I’m happily enjoying my nice cup of Easter tea.

Happy Easter to Everyone!

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6 comments

  1. What a lovely piece of research for Easter, Margo. You tell the history so beautifully. Others have copied the idea, but none so elegantly gorgeously as Fabergé. In the early days of the Colony of New South Wales Emu eggs were decorated with silver and sometimes precious stones for Easter gifts. I have seen a silver decorated Emu egg in the National Gallery of Victoria.
    Happy Easter, Paula

    1. Hi Paula, Happy Easter to you! I looked up some of those emu eggs and they are beautiful. It’s amazing what a real artist can do with almost any material.
      I especially appreciate them after decorating my Easter eggs this year. I had beautiful Faberge images in my mind, but, sadly, the end product didn’t match up. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Paul. Glad you enjoyed it.
      Did the Easter Bunny bring you any eggs like that? 🙂

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