AS GOOGLE CELEBRATES the birthday of late Russian legend Peter Carl Fabergé today with a bejeweled Doodle, the question has come from some readers: Why are those precious Imperial eggs worth such a king’s ransom, anyway?
Like a czar opening up one of Mr. Fabergé’s eggs to unveil the deeper delights, let’s look a little closer at these amazing works of decorative art for the real reasons as to why they’re not only precious, but special:
1. The hunt for Imperial Fabergé eggs is a short one.
Although the House of Fabergé made many eggs (as well as so much other decorative art), Peter Carl Fabergé only made Imperial eggs for the Romanovs between 1885 — when he was first commissioned by Czar Alexander III to make an anniversary-gift Easter egg for his empress, Maria Fedorovna — and about 1916, at the dawn of the Russian Revolution. (That first remarkable, enameled egg opened up to reveal a golden yolk and within that a gold hen that contained a ruby egg and a wee crown.)
As such, it’s believed only about 50 or so Imperial Fabergé eggs were created — and of those, at least a half-dozen are believed lost to history.
At one point, the late mogul Malcolm Forbes reportedly owned nine of them.
2. The House of Fabergé transformed the art form.
Before Peter Carl Fabergé, such jewel-encrusted art was said to be valued for its precious stones alone — the worth was measured in the materials themselves.
Fabergé, the son of a goldsmith and the father of invention, was a meticulous man who — working with his team of talents — transformed his decorative art. His only orders from the father and son czars were to make each egg unique. Elevating his craft above the functional, Fabergé found inspiration in designing these royal surprises, with eggs that could include a ship, depict a family history like a miniature photo album or render a Resurrection.
By the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris, Fabergé became renowned for his landmark aesthetic achievement.
The artistic brilliance, it was said, transcended the bullion.
3. The Gilded Age for the Gilded Egg.
The Imperial Fabergé eggs are special partly because of the historical period they represent. They were creatively hatched from a period of insane opulence — yet the egg also seems the perfect symbol for the ultimate fragility of the doomed dynasty. In the heat of the Revolution, all the Romanovs save for the dowager empress Maria were executed.
Peter Carl Fabergé himself was forced to flee the Revolution, dying in Switzerland in 1920, with the toll of his escape to Lausanne apparently, in effect, a fatal flight. With the fall of the House of Fabergé (a name and brand that has been bought and sold since), the famed jeweler was said to be heartbroken, remarking that life was now not worth living.
4. What the market — and “magic name” — will bear.
In recent years, as the Imperial eggs and other Fabergé artwork have newly become available, they’ve fetched staggering totals at auction. But there was a very gradual ascension to these record prices.
For decades, Forbes was reportedly one of about five major American collectors, and the eggs could go under the hammer for less than a thousand dollars.
In 2007, by comparison, an enamel-and-gold Fabergé egg — held by the banking Rothschilds for at least a century — sold for a record $18.5-million in a Christie’s auction; that broke the record of $9.6-million paid for a Fabergé egg just five years earlier.
“It holds an amazing fascination for just about everybody, from James Bond onwards as far as I can remember,” Christie’s Russian art specialist, Anthony Philips, told the Associated Press in 2007. “It’s just a magic name. The quality is fantastic.
“There’s just a romantic association with the Russian Revolution. They’re of stunning workmanship.”