23 October 2016
Fabergé Easter Eggs were presented as Easter gifts of the royal family. Photo:
Fabergé Easter Eggs were presented as Easter gifts of the royal family. Photo:

Easter Egg surprise fit for a Tsar

Hong Kong celebrated Easter a week ago, but Russian Orthodox Christians marked the festival just over the weekend.

One enduring legacy of the tradition is the Fabergé Easter Egg, the most spectacular work created by the House of Fabergé for the Russian court.

Its creator was Peter Carl Fabergé, the Russian jeweller who served as the imperial supplier of jewelry for Tsar Alexander III and his son Tsar Nicholas II.

Most of his Easter Eggs were presented as Easter gifts of the royal family in accordance with Russian tradition of exchanging Easter eggs to mark the most important holiday in the Russian Orthodox Christian calendar.

“Fabergé has a great history in making jewelry for the royalty and a truly precious Fabergé Egg is a luxury treasure and the symbol of a long-gone era of opulence,” said Hussain Ibrahim Al-Fardan, chairman of the Alfardan Group and a renowned collector of natural pearls.

Al-Fardan recently bought the “Fabergé Pearl Egg” at an undisclosed seven-figure price, according to a Forbes report, and the object was showcased at the world’s largest watch and jewelry fair Baselworld in Switzerland last month.

An expert, Géza von Habsburg, once described the Fabergé Eggs as “the most expensive things that the imperial family bought from Fabergé”.

The Fabergé Eggs are famous because of their sophisticated design and the depth of history behind them. And the spirit of each Fabergé Egg is the surprise inside.

Take the Memory of Azov Easter Egg as an example. The egg was presented by Tsar Alexander III to his wife Maria Feodorovna in 1891 and made to commemorate a trip by his son Nicholas and Grand Duke George to the Russian Far East. They also visited Hong Kong and Japan during that journey.

However, the images on some Fabergé Easter Eggs were not in line with the historical reality.

The Moscow Kremlin Easter Egg, for example, was created in memory of Nicholas II’s visit to Moscow with Alexandra in 1903.

Made of gold, sliver, onyx and glass, the Moscow Kremlin Easter Egg imitated the architecture of the Cathedral of the Assumption, the oldest church in the Kremlin. The surprise inside is a music box that plays two traditional hymns.

While the egg was meant as a testament to the glory of the Russian empire, it was actually presented after the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), in which Russia was defeated.

Twelve years after the war, the October Revolution took place and the Tsarist regime collapsed.

Fabergé and his family fled Russia, traveling across Europe until they were reunited in Switzerland in 1920. Fabergé died in the same year.

The House of Fabergé made more than 50 of its famous Easter Eggs from 1885 to 1917 for the royal family. Only 42 of them have survived.

While some disappeared after the revolution, many were sold by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Between 1930 and 1933, 14 imperial eggs left Russia.

Despite the collapse of Russian empire in 1917, followed by the downfall of Soviet Union in 1991, they still carry significance to the Russians, particularly among the rich.

Victor Vekselberg, chairman of Russian conglomerate Renova Group bought the Coronation Egg at an auction in 2004. The final price was not disclosed, but the egg was estimated to be worth as much as HK$186 million.

A Fabergé clock was also sold to a Russian bidder for HK$143.4 million.

Victor Garanin, director of Moscow’s Fersman Mineralogical Museum, believes that the legacy of Fabergé Easter Eggs will continue as art is beyond time.

He said: “They [Fabergé Easter Eggs] remind you that everything is temporary. We are temporary, but these pieces of art will stay until eternity.”

This message is universal but it is particularly true for Russia, which always has something surprising, whether good or bad, throughout its history.

The country itself is like a Fabergé Easter Egg; it always springs a surprise.

As the saying goes, when in Russia, expect the unexpected. 

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