Eggs as symbols of creation and new life have been exchanged for hundreds of years. Easter is the most joyful celebration of the Orthodox faith in Russia... After the devout church services, families gather to exchange gifts of decorated eggs, symbols of renewed life and hope. The Easter of 1885 also marks the twentieth anniversary of Czar Alexander III and Czarina Maria Fedorovna, and the Czar needs an exceptional gift for his wife, born Princess Dagmar of Denmark. So he places an order with a young jeweler, Peter Karl Fabergé, whose beautiful creations have recently caught Maria's eye.
In fact, as is often the case, the truth is far more interesting. According to documents published in 1997, it appears quite clear that the Emperor had little to do with the original commission. Letters exist which prove that the egg was received from Fabergé by Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovitch, and that he sent the egg on to the Emperor with detailed instructions on how to open it on presentation. The Empress was, by all accounts delighted, but this mystery is left: did Fabergé approach the Emperor, having created the egg on speculation, as was asserted by Fabergé's first biographer H.C. Bainbridge, or perhaps, did the Empress request that it be made? This is possible, as there exists in the Danish Royal collection, a very similar egg of eighteenth century manufacture, with which the Empress might have been familiar. Common thought among scholars is that the Emperor was seeking an anniversary present for his wife, and that Vladimir Alexandrovitch was the go-between for the Imperial couple and Fabergé. It is known from documentation that the egg was received by Vladimir Alexandrovitch from Fabergé, and sent by him to the Emperor for presentation to the Empress.
The egg consists of an opaque white enamel shell, with a hidden release mechanism. When pressed, the shell opens to reveal a polished gold yolk. Upon opening the yolk, a four-color gold hen is revealed as the surprise. The hen is hinged on the tail feathers which allows it to also open up to reveal two additional surprises which are now missing. The first of these was a gold and diamond replica of the imperial crown. Suspended within the crown as the final surprise was a tiny ruby pendant. A necklace chain was included so the Tsarina could wear the pendant. The egg, when manufactured, cost 4,151 rubles, 75 kopecks, and was moved to the Empress' residence in the Anitchkov Palace. This was the first egg presented to the Empress Marie by Alexander III.
Inside the egg there is the gold yolk, and inside it a golden hen with ruby eyes. Inside the hen there was a ruby crown and inside the crown a pendant. The last two surprises, the diamonds crown and a ruby pendant, were "lost" when the egg was sold by the Bolsheviks in the 1920s. A related lapis lazuli hen egg in the Cleveland Museum of Art from the collection of India Early Minshall, possibly a variation on the theme by Fabergé, still retains a ruby pendant suspended within the crown.
In September of 1917, the egg was moved along with others to the Kremlin for safekeeping by the Provisional Government. In the 1920's, the egg was purchased by one Mr. Berry in London, probably from Soviet officials, for an undisclosed sum. On March 15, 1934, the egg was sold at auction by Christie's London for the sum of 85 GBP ($430). The piece was purchased by Mr. R. Suenson-Taylor. Mr. Suenson Taylor was made the first Baron Grantchester in 1953, and in June of 1976, the Estate of Lord and Lady Grantchester made the egg available to A La Vieille Russie in New York. In January of 1978, ALVR negotiated a private sale of The First Imperial Egg to the Forbes Collection.
After eighty years of exile this egg has been returned home thanks to Russian businessman Viktor Vekselbergu, Chairman of board of directors of Open Society "Sual-holding" who has purchased it from successors to Malcolm Forbes (1919-1990) and has made it accessible to the Russian citizens. Sale of the Forbes' collection from auction "Sotheby's" in the beginning of 2004 (though some tens of items from the Forbes' collection have been already sold two or three years earlier) could make objects channel off in separate collections and countries. Purchasing of the whole collection by V.Vekselberg before advertised bidding has become unprecedented in auction practice.