The series of lavish Easter eggs created by Fabergé for the Russian Imperial family, between 1885 and 1916, are certainly the most celebrated and awe-inspiring of all Fabergé works of art. Easter was the most important occasion of the year in the Russian Orthodox Church, equivalent to Christmas in the West. A centuries-old tradition of bringing hand-coloured eggs to Church to be blessed and then presented to friends and family had evolved through the years, and amongst the highest echelons of St Petersburg society. So the story began when Tsar Alexander III decided to give a jewelled Easter egg to his wife the Empress Marie Fedorovna, in 1885, possibly to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their betrothal, and thus the first Imperial Easter egg was born. The tradition was continued by his son, Nicholas II, who presented an egg annually to both his wife, the Empress Alexandra Fedorovna, and to his mother, the Dowager Empress Marie Fedorovna. Of the 50 eggs Fabergé made for the Romanov Imperial family from 1885 through to 1916, 42 have survived.
Each egg, an artistic tour de force, took a year or more to make, involving a team of highly skilled craftsmen, who worked in the greatest secrecy. Fabergé was given complete freedom in the design and execution, with the only prerequisite being that there had to be surprise within each creation. Dreaming up each complex concept, Fabergé often drew on family ties, events in Imperial Court life, or the milestones and achievements of the Romanov dynasty.
The most expensive was the 1913 Winter Egg, which was invoiced at 24,600 roubles (then £2,460). The egg would have cost £1.87 million today. The Winter Egg, designed by Alma Pihl, famed for her series of diamond snowflakes, is made of carved rock crystal as thin as glass. This is embellished with engraving, and ornamented with platinum and diamonds, to resemble frost. The egg rests on a rock-crystal base designed as a block of melting ice. The flowers are made from white quartz, nephrite, gold and demantoid garnets and they emerge from moss made of green gold. Its overall height is 14.2cm. It is set with 3,246 diamonds. The egg sold at Christie’s in New York in 2002 for US$9.6 million.