The Quick 10: 10 Faberge Egg Surprises

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While those of us who do the egg-decorating thing will likely content ourselves with store-bought dyes and stickers this Sunday, there is a certain set of people whose Easter décor is more likely to contain rubies and diamonds. Faberge Eggs started out as a little Easter morning present from Tsar Alexander III to his wife, Empress Maria Feodorovna, in 1885. She was so delighted by the first one that a new tradition was born. Alexander III's son, Nicholas, carried on that tradition when he married. Although the eggs were encrusted with jewels and are now practically priceless works of art, I think the best part of them are the little surprises contained inside. It's kind of like finding the prize at the bottom of the cereal box"¦ a cereal box made of precious metal and covered with expensive gems, yes, but kind of similar nonetheless. Here's what you would find if you cracked open 10 Faberge Eggs.

1. The Hen Egg was that very first egg Empress Maria received; the one that started it all. It appeared to be a plain, white enamel egg, but looks can be deceiving. Inside the egg was, naturally, yolk made of gold, to be precise. Inside the yolk was a little golden hen. You might think it ends here, but no "“ inside the hen were two tiny but pricey gifts "“ a diamond miniature of the royal crown, and a tiny ruby egg pendant that could be hung on a necklace. The Hen Egg itself is still around, but the tiny presents within the golden hen have been missing for a number of years now.

2. The Diamond Trellis Egg is a work of art before you even open it. It's carved from a pale green jadeite and wrapped in a trellis of rose-cut diamonds. Hidden inside was a tiny little elephant made of ivory and gold, also covered in rose-cut diamonds and brilliant diamonds. The really cool thing? He was a little wind-up toy. The elephant came with a key and when the Empress was so inclined, she could wind him up and watch him walk. These little hidden treasures were apparently hard to hold on to (or small enough for thieves to pocket), because the elephant has also been lost to history.

3. Rosebud was the first egg Nicholas II presented to his wife. His dad had died in 1894 and he ascended to the throne, marrying Alexandra Fyodorovna. Alexandra was terribly homesick, especially for the rose garden Rosenhöhe, Darmstadt, so Nicholas arranged for the egg to open to reveal a yellow-enamel rosebud that looked just like the ones she missed. The rosebud opened to reveal a ruby pendant and tiny golden crown studded with diamonds and rubies to represent her new Empress of Russia title. They are "“ you guessed it "“ both lost.

4. The Lilies of the Valley Egg marks where the "surprise" started to get really creative. Instead of the egg simply opening to reveal something tiny inside, the surprise on this egg is that a twist of a pearl button on the egg makes three portraits pop up from the inside "“ Nicholas, of course, so Alexandra could gaze on the adoring face of her husband "“ and their two oldest daughters, Olga and Tatiana. Pretty crafty!
5. The Trans-Siberian Railway Egg sounds pretty complicated, don't you think? And it was. Made of onyx, silver, gold and quartz, the egg contained a miniature clockwork replica of a train made out of gold and platinum. It had five cars and a gold key to wind it up. This egg and its surprise are actually still on public display, should you ever find yourself with a little time to kill in Moscow. It's at the Kremlin Armoury museum.

6. The Bay Tree Egg stands at not quite a foot tall, but what it lacks in height it makes up for in luxury. You've got a treasure chest of gems here: diamonds, citrines, amethysts, rubies, agate and pearls. Not to mention gold, enamel and feathers. When Tsar Nicholas gave this egg to his widowed mother in 1911, she would have had to closely examine the leaves on the egg (shaped to look like a tree) to find a little gold winding mechanism tucked inside. When she turned it, the top part of the egg rose up and a tiny little feathered nightingale popped out to sing a little ditty, flap its wings and move its beak. When he was done singing, the bird and the top of the egg all descended back down. I hope my mom isn't expecting something equally amazing"¦
7. Here's one you can check out if you're in the Virginia area. Housed at the Museum of Fine Arts, the Peter the Great Egg is made of red, yellow and green gold; platinum; rose-cut diamonds; rubies; enamel and crystal. There are four miniature watercolors on it. And that's just the outside of the egg. When the egg is opened, a little mechanism makes a miniature gold model of Peter the Great's monument on the Neva rise up to rest on a base of sapphire.

8. Don't think that these little surprises were easy for Faberge to make "“ he toiled long and hard on them. The Peacock Egg took three years of trial and error before it was ready to be given to the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna. When the crystal egg was opened, a golden tree was revealed with a golden peacock perched in its branches. The coolest part? It could be removed from the tree and wound up, where it would walk around and spread its tail feathers.

9. The Czarevich Egg could have been a sad tale, but there's actually a happy ending to it. Sort of. At the time, the royal family thought little Alexei was going to die of hemophilia at any given moment. They even had his death certificate all drawn up and ready to go. The Czarevich Egg could have been a tribute to Alexei's short life, but it ended up being a tribute to his survival "“ he held on and his health improved greatly. The blue lapis lazuli egg opened to reveal a miniature watercolor portrait of young Alexei in his sailor suit, one of his mother's favorites. You can see it in Richmond, Virginia, at the Virginia Collection of Fine Arts. So why do I say there's "sort of" a happy ending? The egg was an Easter present in 1912; Alexei and his whole family were murdered in 1918. He was just 13.

10. The Rock Crystal Egg is seriously intricate. First of all, a 27-carat Siberian emerald sits on top of the egg. That would be enough for me, you know? But inside the egg was a golden support that held not one painting, not two paintings, not even three paintings "“ there were 12 teeny, tiny little paintings of palaces and buildings that had special meaning for Empress Alexandra. These included the palace where she was born, the Winter Palace where she and Nicholas were married, and favorite vacation homes. It was very sentimental to the Empress and she kept it in her study at the Winter Palace. The egg is now at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

If your Easter basket is more likely to contain dyed chicken eggs from the grocery store and a carton of pastel, speckled Whopper eggs, don't worry "“ you're in good company. There will be no rubies or hidden miniature portraits at the Conradt household. Hope you all enjoy your weekend, whether it includes pearls or Peeps!

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April 2, 2010 - 1:34pm
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