Little more than ten years ago a junk dealer in a flea market in America’s Midwest bought a small golden egg which contained a hidden Vacheron Constantin watch. Some years later the shopkeeper stumbled across an article in the Telegraph which showed a photograph of one of Fabergé’s eight lost Imperial Easter Eggs. He realised there and then that he was the unwitting owner and that the object, which he had bought for little more than ten thousand dollars, was actually worth something like thirty-three million.

The news got around and very soon Fabergé’s Imperial Easter Eggs came under the spotlight once more. But their history goes back long before this curious anecdote.

At Easter in the year 1885 Emperor Alexander III commissioned the famous Russian jeweller Peter Carl Fabergé (his origins were French) to produce a surprise for the Empress Maria Feodorovna.

In response, Fabergé produced a unique object: a small enamelled egg which resembled a Russian doll. Inside there was a golden egg yolk which itself contained a hidden hen, then a miniature Imperial crowns, and finally a surprise: a small, egg-shaped ruby.

The Empress was so enthusiastic about her gift that Fabergé was nominated as supplier to the Imperial court. From then on he was required to make an egg containing a surprise each year. And each year the same result was expected: amazement.

In reality, starting from 1894, the year of the accession of the last Emperor Nicholas II, not one but two eggs were required: one for the Emperor’s mother, and another for his wife: Alexandra Feodorovna.

Each year, therefore, real works of art were produced, most of which required long hours of work and a high level of craftsmanship. But given that at the height of his career Fabergé could count almost 500 jewellers and artists amongst his employees, some of whom were numbered amongst the greatest goldsmiths of the day, the enormous effort required to produce the Imperial Easter Eggs never became an insurmountable problem.

The subjects chosen and the appearance of the eggs changed each time, and they were often influenced by memorable occasions linked in some way to Russia’s imperial history. Thus in 1900 the egg commemorated the construction, recently completed, of the Trans-Siberian Railway. The eggshell was a map showing the itinerary; the surprise was a miniature version of the train, made of gold and platinum and working perfectly owing to an ingenious mechanism.

Fifty Imperial Easter Eggs were produced overall, the last two of which were incomplete. The materials used and the techniques employed, on the other hand, were too numerous to mention. Many at that time constituted a real revolution in the jewellery industry.

The last commission dates from 1917, the year in which the February Revolution led to the forced abdication of the Emperor. The dynasty lost the throne and Fabergé’s company was closed. Fabergé himself fled from Russia and production of his wonderful creations ceased.

The photographic gallery shows some of the most remarkable Imperial Easter Eggs created.

Saint Petersburg, March 2018