Among the Easter traditions that cut across cultural lines, the exchanging of eggs is paramount. In Russia, Easter is the most important holy day, and the Russian monarchy took the symbolism of the egg seriously.
A jeweler named Peter Carl Faberge had the good fortune to be named the Czar’s Court Goldsmith in 1885, a position he would hold until the bloody end of the Russian dynasty in the revolution of 1917. Faberge worked closely with Czar Alexander III to make a gold Easter egg for the czar to present to the czarina. The first egg was fairly simple: a 2 ½ inch white enameled egg which opened to reveal a gold yolk, which opened to reveal a gold hen with ruby eyes and a red gold comb and beak. Simple, but rendered in luxurious materials.
That first egg began a lovely chapter of decorative arts history: the Imperial eggs. When Nicholas II succeeded his father as czar in 1896, he continued to employ Faberge to make masterful Easter eggs, usually with a mechanical aspect or a surprise, to present to his wife and his mother. As the years went on, the designs became more elaborate, studded with pearls and multicolor diamonds and layered with enamels and colored gold (Faberge used green and red gold quite often). Each had a secret inside, from a replica of the Imperial coronation coach, to a replica of the Trans-Siberian railroad, to hand painted portraits and scenes from Russian history. One egg housed a mechanical peacock that took 6 years to complete.
I had the change to see many of the original Imperial eggs at an exhibit at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art in Las Vegas, and they are absolutely exquisite in person. The amount of detail, the precision and the thought that went into these eggs is quite extraordinary.
Although best known for the Imperial eggs, Faberge produced myriad luxury goods such as jewelry, cigarette cases, tableware and carved gemstone flowers. Every piece was meticulous in design and craftsmanship and used the finest materials. The House of Faberge grew to become the largest company in Russian and it produced more than 150,000 items from 1882 through 1917. Faberge fled Russia during the revolution, but his store in St. Petersburg, although renamed, still stands today.
Faberge’s sons started a new company in Europe after World War II, which has since been absorbed by a conglomerate. A rebirth of the Faberge brand is underway, and reproductions of several Imperial eggs may be purchased at Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdales for a trifling $4,000.00. Other goods, including crystal ware, are available from $95.00 for enameled wine charms.
Perhaps the Faberge Imperial eggs were a gross, conceited extravagance when the Russian people were starving, but the message from the czar to the czarina was clear with each successive masterpiece: I adore you. That is a sentiment that we can all get behind.
So this year, take note of the Russian tradition of exchanging small but meaningful gifts and let someone know how you feel.
Photo credit: Copyright Alex_Mac/Fotolia.com