Czar Alexander III and his wife Czarina Maria Fedorovna celebrated their twentieth anniversary on Easter in 1885. Easter is the most celebrated holiday for those of the Russian Orthodox faith, marking a time of hope and renewed life. So it was that on this very special occasion the Czar wanted a very special gift to present to his wife.
The Czar commissioned a young jeweler, Peter Carl Faberge, whose creations were favored by his wife, to make a truly special gift. On Easter morning, Faberge delivered an enameled egg with a golden yolk. Inside the yolk was a golden hen, and inside the hen, a miniature royal crown of diamonds and a ruby egg. Maria was completely taken with the gift, which led the Czar to engage Faberge's services every Easter thereafter. The Czar only insisted that each Faberge egg be unique, and contain a surprise befitting of an Empress.
Faberge came through, year after year, taking inspiration from the lives of the Czar and his wife. For example, the Danish Palaces egg of 1891 was covered in translucent pink enamel, encrusted with jewels and gold leaf. Inside was a series of 10 screens upon which were painted tiny portraits of palaces and houses in which Maria had lived as a Danish princess before marrying Alexander III.
After the Czar's unexpected death in 1894, the Czar's son, Nicholas II, ascended to the throne. Nicholas not only continued the tradition of the Faberge egg for his mother, but placed an order for a second egg for his wife, Czarina Alexandra Fedorovna.
Faberge's life changed when the Imperial eggs were shown in public for the first time at the 1900 World Exhibition. The exquisite beauty of the ornate eggs captured the adoration of royalty and aristocracy, and Faberge was inundated with commissions from around the world. This led to the establishment of the House of Faberge.
The Czar's reign ended on 15 March 1917 among famine and riots. Nicholas and his family, including his five children, were held hostage for over a year before they were finally shown to a basement and executed on 17 July 1918. Nicholas' mother managed to escape death and departed from her homeland with the Order of St. George egg -- the last Faberge egg she would ever receive.
Fifty-six Imperial Faberge eggs were made in all, and of those forty-four are accounted for and two others have been photographed. Faberge Easter eggs were also commissioned by Siberian gold mine owner, Alexander Kelch, but the Imperial Easter egg collection is the most highly valued.
The mystique, beauty, and whimsical nature of the Faberge egg is copied to this day, though few are aware of the history behind the bejeweled symbol of hope and life inspired by a reign of Czars whose own lives ended in tragedy.