Industry Updates

December 2013


In a newly opened museum in St. Petersburg, Viktor Vekselberg has placed his priceless collection of Faberge Eggson display for the general public. The museum is housed within Shuvalov Palace, a historic dwelling in the heart of the city which once held balls and concerts attended by members of the Imperial family as well as famous literati.

The first Fabergé egg was crafted for Tsar Alexander III, who had decided to give his wife, the Empress Maria Fedorovna, an Easter Egg in 1885, possibly to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their betrothal. It is believed that the Tsar’s inspiration for the piece was an egg owned by the Empress’s aunt, Princess Vihelmine Marie of Denmark, which had captivated Maria’s imagination in her childhood. Known as the Hen Egg, the first Fabergé egg was crafted from gold. Its opaque white enameled ‘shell’ opens to reveal its first surprise, a matte yellow gold yolk. This in turn opens to reveal a multicoloured gold hen that also opens. It contained a minute diamond replica of the Imperial Crown from which a small ruby pendant was suspended, but these last two elements have been lost.

Empress Maria was so delighted by the gift that Alexander appointed Fabergé a ‘goldsmith by special appointment to the Imperial Crown’ and commissioned another egg the next year. After that, Peter Carl Fabergé was apparently given complete freedom for future Imperial Easter Eggs, and their designs become more elaborate. According to Fabergé family lore, not even the Tsar knew what form they would take: the only requirement was that each contain a surprise. Once an initial design had been approved by Peter Carl Fabergé, the work was carried out by a team of craftsmen, among them Michael Perkhin, Henrik Wigström and Erik August Kollin.

After Alexander III's death on November 1, 1894, his son Nicholas II presented a Fabergé egg to both his wife, the Empress Alexandra Fedorovna, and his mother, the Dowager Empress Maria Fedorovna. Eggs were made each year except 1904 and 1905, during the Russo-Japanese War.

The Imperial eggs enjoyed great fame, and Fabergé was commissioned to make similar eggs for a few private clients, including the Duchess of Marlborough, the Rothschild family and the Yusupovs. A series of seven eggs were also made for the industrialist Alexander Kelch.

The billionaire collector Viktor Vekselberg, who bought Malcolm Forbes’ Fabergé egg collection in 2004 for a sum estimated to be up to $120m, is due to put 4,000 items drawn from his fine and decorative art collection on show in the Shuvalov Palace.

«The initial plan was to finish the renovation in 2011,» a spokesman for Vekselberg says. The Art Newspaper understands that the billionaire has spent around $30m on the conservation project. Vekselberg now owns nine Fabergé Imperial Easter Eggs, which, according to a press statement, will form the «backbone» of the museum collection.