No doubt in 1885 when Tsar Alexander III presented this Easter gift, the Hen Egg, to the Tsarina Maria Feodorovna, she didn’t ask the perennial question ‘which came first’. This magnificent Fabergé egg led to the creation of 50 uniquely designed Imperial Fabergé Easter eggs presented to both Tsarina Maria Feodorovna later the Dowager Empress, and Alexandra Feodorovna, wife of Tsar Nicholas II, through until 1916.
The white enamelled ‘shell’ when twisted, opens to reveal a gold yolk.
That in turn, opens to reveal a varicoloured gold hen set with ruby eyes.
The tail feathers contain a hinge that also opens and originally revealed a miniature gold and diamond replica of the Imperial crown complete with a tiny ruby pendant. Unfortunately, both these items are now lost.
Such was the success of the Hen Egg, Peter Carl Fabergé was given a team of artisans and was commissioned to design all future imperial Easter eggs. Over time they became more and more elaborate, housing hidden surprises often relating to events of the time.
The Coronation Egg, created in 1897 to commemorate the coronation of Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra, contains a miniature replica of the coronation coach complete with moving wheels, opening doors and folding step stair.
In 1900 Fabergé created the Trans-Siberian Railway Egg, engraved with a route map of the railway and housing a miniature clockwork replica of a steam locomotive in sections, complete with gold wind up key to make it run. It is now kept in the Kremlin Armoury Museum, Moscow.
When interviewed in 1914, Peter Carl Fabergé was asked how he rated himself against other highly regarded competitors such as Tiffany, Cartier and Boucheron. He famously replied: “I am the artist jeweller. You can spend millions on rubies and buy strings of pearls, but if you want to buy something artistic, you have to come to me.” Obviously, the House of Romanov agreed!
Of the 50 Imperial eggs created, only 43 of the original are known to exist in private collections and museums worldwide.