The Russian Tsars had long had a tradition of giving jewelled Easter eggs. In 1885, Tsar Alexander III gave his wife, Maria Feodorovna, a particularly special jewelled Easter egg. Created by the famed St Petersburg jewellers, the House of Fabergé, the enamelled egg opened to reveal a golden hen sitting on a golden straw, as well as a miniature diamond replica of the Imperial crown and ruby pendant.
The Tsarina was beyond delighted by the gift, and 6 weeks later, Fabergé was appointed ‘goldsmith by special appointment to the Imperial Crown’ by Alexander. This marked the start of one of the most legendary series of objets d’art in history: Fabergé’s Imperial Easter Eggs. Intricate, elaborate and ostentatious, they were innovatively themed each year, opening to reveal a precious ‘surprise’.
Whilst there are detailed records of the 52 Fabergé eggs which were gifted by the royal family during this time, the whereabouts of only 46 of them are accounted for. The mystery of the remaining 6 has enthralled treasure hunters for over a century. Here is what we know about the missing Fabergé Imperial Easter eggs.
1. Hen with Sapphire Pendant (1886)
The second Fabergé Easter egg given by Alexander III to Maria Feodorovna, the ‘Hen with Sapphire Pendant’ egg, is something of a mystery given no photographs or illustrations exist, and descriptions are vague or unclear. However, it was certainly a hen, covered in gold and rose diamonds, taking a sapphire egg out of a nest or basket, which was also covered in diamonds.
The egg made it to the Kremlin, where it was included in a 1922 inventory, but its subsequent movements are unclear. Some believe it was sold to raise funds for the new provisional government, whilst others think it might have been lost in the chaos following the Russian Revolution. Its whereabouts today are unknown and the lack of definitive details about the egg means it is unlikely to be rediscovered.
2. Cherub with Chariot (1888)
Crafted and delivered in 1888, only a singular blurry black and white photograph of the ‘Cherub with Chariot’ egg exists. Brief descriptions from Fabergé himself in his records and invoice, as well as the imperial archives in Moscow, suggest it was a gold egg covered in diamonds and sapphire, being pulled by a chariot and angel, with a clock as the surprise inside it.
After the fall of the Romanovs in 1917, the egg was seized by the Bolsheviks and sent to the Kremlin, where it was documented in 1922. Some believe the industrialist Armand Hammer (nicknamed ‘Lenin’s favourite capitalist’) bought the egg: a 1934 catalogue of his possessions in New York describes an egg which could well be the ‘Cherub with Chariot’ egg.
However, it seems that if this was the egg, Hammer did not realise it, and there is no definitive proof. Regardless, the whereabouts of Hammer’s egg today are unknown.
3. Nécessaire (1889)
Believed to be in the hands of a discerning private collector, the ‘Nécessaire’ egg was originally given by Tsar Alexander III to Maria Feodorovna in 1889, and was described as being covered in ‘rubies, emeralds and sapphires’.
It was evacuated from St Petersburg to the Kremlin in 1917 along with many other Imperial treasures. The Bolsheviks later sold it as part of their so-called ‘treasures for tractors’ initiative, which raised money by selling off Imperial family belongings to fund the Bolsheviks’ political and economic aims.
‘Nécessaire’ was acquired by the jewellers Wartski in London and displayed as part of a wider Fabergé exhibition in London in November 1949. The egg was subsequently sold by Wartski in 1952: the sale is recorded in their ledger for £1,250, but the buyer is listed only as ‘A Stranger’.
As such, it’s believed ‘Nécessaire’ is still in anonymous private hands, but its owner has never come forward to confirm its whereabouts.
4. Mauve (1897)
The Mauve egg was made in 1897 and presented by Tsar Nicholas II to his mother, the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna. Existing descriptions of the egg are extremely vague. Fabergé’s invoice described it simply as a ‘mauve enamel egg with 3 miniatures’. The miniatures were of the Tsar, his wife, Tsarina Alexandra, and their oldest child, Grand Duchess Olga.
The miniatures still exist and are kept in St Petersburg: they were in the possession of Lydia Deterding, neé Kudeyarova in 1962, a Russian-born French emigré. The whereabouts of the rest of the egg are unknown, although it was not recorded in the 1917 or 1922 inventories, suggesting it had been removed before the revolution.
5. Royal Danish (1903)
The Royal Danish egg was created for the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, who was known as Princess Dagmar of Denmark until she married Alexander III. The egg was topped by the symbol of Denmark’s Order of the Elephant.
One of the larger Fabergé eggs, it opened to reveal portraits of the Dowager Empress’ parents, King Christian IX of Denmark and Queen Louise. Its whereabouts today are unknown: a July 1917 survey of the royal treasures at the Gatchina Palace, compiled by loyalists, implies it was present at this point and therefore potentially successfully evacuated to safety.
6. Alexander III Commemorative egg (1909)
Made in 1909, the Alexander III egg was another gift for the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna. Inside the egg was a miniature gold bust of Alexander III, the Tsar’s father and the Dowager Empress’ former husband.
Whilst there is a photograph of the egg, there have been no leads on its whereabouts, and it was not recorded in Bolshevik inventories, implying it disappeared before they arrived. Whether it fell into private hands or was destroyed in the looting of the royal palaces is unclear.