An Easter Egg par excellence
One of the most desirable ‘objets d’art’ in the world is the much-famed Faberge Egg, created originally for Russian royalty, states Iain Robertson, which has been commissioned in new form for a very wealthy owner and Rolls Royce collector.
The history of Faberge Eggs is linked closely with the feast of Easter. In 1885, Emperor Alexander III of Russia wanted to give his wife, Empress Maria Feodorovna, a truly memorable gift, which it is reputed was to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary. The Imperial spending power was seemingly without limit, a factor that was resented by Russian subjects. In fact, a chocolate Easter egg that had first gone on sale in Britain a dozen years before fell far short of the exacting standards set by the Emperor. He desired something altogether more impressive, magnificent and enduring.
As a result, he commissioned the celebrated Saint Petersburg jeweller, House of Faberge, to create a spectacular jewelled alternative. The firm obliged (in reality, it had little choice in the matter!) with an egg crafted from gold, with an opaque white enamelled shell that opened to reveal a yellow-gold yolk. This contained a golden hen, which in turn concealed a tiny diamond replica of the Imperial crown, from which a small ruby pendant was suspended. It was extravagant beyond expectations.
The Emperor was so delighted with the prized egg that giving Faberge eggs became an Easter tradition for Russia’s ruling dynasty. The firm produced a further nine exquisite examples for Alexander during his reign, with an additional 40 for his successor Tsar Nicholas II (who also happened to be a connoisseur of fine motor cars: his collection included famously a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost finished in a suitably imperial shade of purple). According to records, a total of 69 mega-expensive eggs were produced over the years, of which around 57 remain in collections today. Faberge states that 52 Imperial eggs were created in total.
A number of these remarkable eggs were ‘lost’ following the Revolution of 1917. However, the survivors are among the most coveted and valuable objets d’art ever created. In 2014, the Third Imperial Faberge Egg, dating from 1887, was sold at auction in London for a reputed $33million. Most of them featured complicated opening mechanisms to reveal ‘surprises’ for the recipient.
The history of decorated eggs is said to have origins some 60,000 years ago, in Africa, using engraved and decorated ostrich eggs. In the early cultures of Mesopotamia and Crete, eggs were associated with both death and rebirth, with gold and silver representations placed within graves of Sumerians and early Egyptians. It is said that the influence was adopted by early Christians. In fact, Roman Catholics disallowed from consuming real eggs during the period of Lent, could eat them when Easter arrived…a good way to get rid of stocks, before they went off.
The decorating of eggs continued throughout history. Although one of a number of dying traditions, the practice of children and adults hand-painting hens’ eggs and then rolling them downhill on Easter morning (to represent the rolling away of the stone in front of Christ’s tomb) is still a fun activity. Cracked eggs are consumed with glee, while there is usually an overall victor in the race to the bottom. There are innumerable activities surrounding Easter eggs worldwide, with hunts, tapping and dancing being common. The first chocolate Easter eggs were produced by English confectioner, JS Fry, in 1873, with Cadbury producing the first commercially available versions around two years later. Today, more than 80m sell in the UK alone.
In 2018, Fabergé and Rolls-Royce joined forces to produce a new, contemporary Imperial Egg on behalf of a wealthy (and unnamed) patron of both luxury houses. Only the second object to be commissioned in the Imperial Class, a category reserved for Faberge’s most illustrious creations, since the fall of the Romanovs in 1917, the Spirit of Ecstasy Faberge Egg reflects the extraordinary attention to detail and consummate craftsmanship to which both brands aspire.
Conceived by Rolls-Royce and brought to life by Faberge, the egg stands 160mm high and weighs 400g, embodying the ‘surprise and delight’ attributes of the original Imperial Eggs. It rests on an engine-turned, hand-engraved, purple enamel guilloché base of 18-carat white gold. Arms of rose gold define the shape of the egg, acting as a protective chamber for its precious contents. Operating a discreet lever at the base of the stand opens the shell to reveal a Spirit of Ecstasy figurine hand-sculpted in frosted rock crystal. The rose gold vanes, embellished with nearly 10 carats of round white diamonds, resolve into swathes of natural amethyst weighing over 390 carats, selected specially for its colour saturation and quality. The purple hue of the enamel and amethyst provide a playful nod to the use of colour found in Faberge’s Imperial heritage.
The operating mechanism is believed to be the most complex ever created for a Faberge Egg and blends the latest computer-aided design and micro-engineering technology, with the traditional goldsmiths’ art. The ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ Faberge Egg was premiered at the House of Rolls-Royce, in Goodwood, West Sussex, England, to a party of distinguished guests and patrons in October 2018, before it went on public display in the window of Faberge’s Mayfair premises in London.
Items such as this seldom remain in the hands of their owners. They are so desirable that they can spend the rest of their existences carefully guarded but put on display at special events, or exhibitions, or museums, all of which add to their exclusivity and phenomenal desirability.
Conclusion: It helps to be extremely wealthy, when creating an unique gift for someone special. While most chocolate eggs fall into the category of ‘perishable goods’, less expensive, longer lasting, larger volume replicas of the Faberge eggs have been copied by jewellers for decades.