© Official Facebook page of the Faberge Museum

Faberge Egg, the Most Splendid Transformation of Egg
A single egg can show you the ultimate jewelry craftsmanship. So how did the Easter tradition lead to the world’s most beautiful eggs?
Egg Craft in the Stone Age
Our forefathers in the pre-modern era viewed nature, and particularly the sky, with a sense of fear and awe. The sunshine and the rains from above gave them so much, but also took away so much with famine and flood. Nature was deified, and no matter where they lived, those in the ancient times considered the gods of the sky and the sun to be the greatest.
Birds that could fly across the sky and lands were regarded as reincarnations or descendents of those gods. In mythology and fables, many heroes come from eggs. This is an attempt to legitimize their bloodlines by way of connections to gods of the sky/the sun. Eggs of birds came to be seen as lucky objects.

‘The Order of St. George Easter Egg,’ made in 1916. It’s currently on display at the Faberge Museum © Shutterstock

In 2010, Pierre-Jean Texier, an archaeology professor at Universite Bordeaux in France, discovered fragments of ostrich eggs in South Africa believed to date back 55,000 to 65,000 years, all the way to the late Paleolithic Era. They had traces of artificially engraved patterns. They’re the world’s oldest artifacts for egg decoration. It’s difficult to figure out what those Paleolithic people intended with their engravings, for there was no boundary between art and faith back then. Perhaps those curves gave them some comfort. Maybe the birth of a new life gave people a sense of wonder. Either way, humans have been decorating bird eggs since prehistoric times. And since chickens came into the picture some 7,000 years ago, chicken eggs emerged as the popular object for decoration and craft.
The ancient Jews boiled eggs on Passover. In the Persian Empire, they painted eggs to celebrate the new year. Passover is a Jewish celebration of the liberation from the Egyptian Pharaoh. It falls on Jan. 14 on the Jewish calendar. Written in Chinese characters, Passover means climbing and crossing over, and falls around March or April on our calendar. The Passover egg is a symbol of change: from confinement to freedom, from winter to spring, and from death to life. It was no different than the New Year’s eggs in Persia.

A child looking at a Faberge egg on exhibit at the Faberge Museum © Shutterstock

Easter Egg, or Egg Craft
Constantine the Great unified the fragmented Roman Empire and settled on Christianity as the empire’s official religion. The Romans loved eggs so much that they even had a proverb, “Omne vivum ex ovo,” or “All life comes from the egg.” An egg represented a new life. And under Christianity, it took on added significance. The egg now transcended new life; it came to epitomize resurrection. On Easter, Christians in the Roman Empire dropped copious amounts of onion peels into water for boiling eggs, for they would turn eggs into red. The red there stood for blood and sacrifice of Jesus. There’s some fascinating tale related to this. Mary Magdalene, who first witnessed Jesus’ resurrection, delivered the news to the Roman Emperor. Clearly not impressed with the story, the Emperor pointed to the egg on his table and said if one couldn’t turned an egg red, then there was no way anyone could return to life from the dead. And the egg promptly turned red.
Once the empire became a Christian state, the Romans celebrated the resurrection by banging red eggs with one another. Breaking others’ egg shells became a staple. They would also hide colorfully decorated eggs and let children find them. This is how the ‘Easter Egg’ tradition started.

‘The Renaissance Easter Egg,’ made in 1894, on display at the Faberge Museum © Shutterstock

Meanwhile, Constantine the Great built a new fortress by the shore in Turkey. He called it the new Rome for Constantine, and it came to be known as Constantinople. It became the new capital of the empire, while Rome, the old capital, remained the home of the Pope. The Roman Empire, now divided east and west, continue to grow as the two parts work together and kept each other in check. Just as the two Empires went their separate ways, Christianity also began to branch out. The year 1054 saw the Great Schism. The Western Roman Empire had become Catholic, while the Eastern Roman Empire went the route of Eastern Orthodox. And they were at odds against each other. But within the great framework of Christianity, they were on the same page. The Eastern Roman Empire took over Central and Eastern Europe, plus Russia, all of which came under the umbrella of Eastern Orthodox. But in 1453, Constantinople was brought down by the mighty Ottoman Empire. The city was reborn as Istanbul, capital of the Islamic Ottoman Empire. Around this time, a new power was on the rise in the north. The principality of Moscow, which had been in Mongolia’s control, was picking up steam by integrating with its surrounding regions. In 1469, Ivan III married the niece of the last Eastern Roman emperor, and claimed that he was the heir to the Eastern Orthodox traditions. This was his declaration that Russia was ready to move in from the periphery and toward the center of the world. In 1480, Ivan III defeated the Kipchak Khanate. Around this time, Ivan III began referring to himself as ‘Tsar,’ the Slavic word for Caesar or Czar. It also meant he saw himself as the heir to the Roman Empire.

The Faberge Museum © Shutterstock

Greece and Rome lay the foundation for the Western Civilization. But whether it’s Napoleon or Hitler, Europeans claimed their connections to the Roman Empire whenever they attained power. Most of those claims were dismissed, and there were quite a bit of those in the 15th-16th century Russia. Europeans didn’t see Russia, barely out of the Mongolian control, as heir to Rome. But Russia began to change following the Peter the Great’s revolution. By beating Napoleon, who had the entire Europe under his feet, Russia emerged as the leader of the modern revolution. In 1853, Russia defeated the Ottoman Empire in the ocean, and instilled fears into Britain and France in the process. Just as America developed its West and accumulated considerable resources, Russia expanded to Siberia to keep collecting assets. In order to be recognized as the center of the Christian civilization and European civilization, Russia needed more than its military power and economic clout. Russia needed something to be proud of in its culture and religion. The Russian Empire made luxurious Lomonosov porcelain and fur, and also developed a dining culture that served appetizer, main dish and dessert (the full-course meal came from Russia, not France). The empire also spent money on music and ballet, while building cathedrals decorated with icons. Russia desperately tried to take the main stage in Europe, being flamboyant and reverential along the way.

‘The Fifteenth Anniversary Easter Egg,’ viewed from above © Official Facebook page of the Faberge Museum

Considering their small size, Faberge eggs are the most expensive collectibles in the world. It’s a fun exercise to follow how the ancient traditions of decorating bird’s eggs transformed in the modern era.
Egg Craft Moving Russia to Heart of European Civilization
Even before it converted to Christianity, Russia had a well-developed egg craft culture, typical of Slavic nations. Russia and Ukraine share much of their histories, and Ukraine in particular had an excellent egg craft tradition. Before they embraced Christianity, the Slavs followed a primitive form of animism. The Slavs in Ukraine used wax to draw wind, rain, the sun, animals and geometric patterns and then colors. Because wax resists watercolors, those eggs ended up with some beautiful patterns. The Slavs buried these eggs, called pysanki, into the ground as they prayed for prosperity and good fortune. Thanks to this history, Russia and other Slavic nations readily embraced egg craft for Easter. And in Russia, egg craft culture led to the world’s most brilliant jewelry craftsmanship.
In 1885, Tsar Alexander III presented his wife, Empress Maria Feodorovna, with an Easter egg. Dubbed the ‘Hen Egg,’ it was made of gold. With its white enameled shell, it appeared to be a real egg, but it cracked open to a gold yolk. And the yolk itself held a golden hen in it. The hen contained a miniature replica of the imperial crown. Inside the crown was a tiny ruby pendant in the shape of an egg (the crown and the ruby piece have been lost). This was absolutely spectacular. In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the wedding, the empress was deeply moved. Tsar ordered a jeweler to make new eggs ever year.

‘The Kelch Hen Easter Egg,’ made in 1898 © Official Facebook page of the Faberge Museum


‘The Fifteenth Anniversary Easter Egg,’ made in 1911 © Official Facebook page of the Faberge Museum

The jeweler was Peter Carl Faberge. He was the descendent of immigrants who had left France to the Russian-ruled Estonia to escape the French Wars of Religion. His father opened the jewelry company House of Faberge in the Russian Empire capital of St. Petersburg, and Peter Carl took over the family business and followed his old man’s footsteps as goldsmith. In 1882, Peter Carl’s works were a sensation at the Pan-Russian Exhibition in Moscow. Faberge was awarded a gold medal and the Russian Imperial Order of Saint. Stanislas. And pleased with Faberge’s egg, the Tsar assigned him the title Goldsmith by Special Appointment to the Imperial crown. The House of Faberge became the top jewelry brand in Russia. To this day, Faberge is considered among the world’s top jewelers, alongside Cartier, Bulgari and Tiffany.
Starting in 1885, the House of Faberge began producing Easter eggs every year. And from 1887 and on, Faberge didn’t even have to report to the Tsar before designing his egg. The level of trust in eggs’ quality was such that Faberge was free to build eggs however he pleased. In 1894, Alexander III passed away and his son, Nicholas II, took over as the new Tsar. He also wanted Faberge’s egg, and not just one each year, either. Nicholas II wanted one each for his mother and for his wife. Eggs gradually became more elaborate. Faberge even installed some device inside one egg. The 1900 egg called the ‘Cockerel Egg’ had a small cockerel to come out and sing at the top of each hour.

Faberge eggs © Official Facebook page of the Faberge Museum

Egg Costing 25 Billion Won
Whenever the Easter approached, European emperors, aristocrats and millionaires waited in anticipation just what kind of egg Faberge will produce. The House of Faberge was at its absolute peak. At the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris, Faberge was a member of the jury. His pieces were exhibited without competition and judging. Still, the French government appointed him a knight of the Legion d’honneur (Legion of Honour.). But in 1917, the October Revolution brought down the Romanov dynasty. The Tsar’s family was executed in the basement of their temporary residence in Yekaterinburg, far away from the capital. The entire assets of the House of Faberge were seized. The Faberge family left for Latvia, but the revolution also reached the Baltic countries. They settled in a Swiss hotel in June 1920, but Peter Carl Faberge was so brokenhearted that he died three months later.

The Faberge Museum © Shutterstock

Faberge made 10 eggs from 1885 to 1894. Then from 1895 to 1916, there were two eggs each year, except for 1904 and 1905, when no eggs were made due to the Russo-Japanese War. It meant there were 40 Faberge eggs during that 22-year period, for a total of 50 eggs. Of those, 10 are being preserved at the Faberge Museum in St. Petersburg, while three ended up with British queen. The renowned publishing family Forbes purchased nine Faberge eggs through auctions. But they’re rumored to have sold off some or the entire collection to a Russian oil magnate due to some financial crunch. In 2014, one Faberge egg was found at an American Midwest flea market. So far, 43 eggs have been located, and they’re each valued at over 25 billion won on average. These eggs have even been featured in films. In “Ocean’s Twelve,” George Clooney and Vincent Cassel duel for the title as the best thief in the world, with whoever steals the Faberge Imperial Coronation Egg earning that designation.
Considering their small size, Faberge eggs are the most expensive collectibles in the world. It’s a fun exercise to follow how the ancient traditions of decorating bird’s eggs transformed in the modern era. St. Petersburg is home to the world’s most precious, splendid and expensive eggs. If you miss Faberge’s eggs while doing a tour of museums in St. Petersburg, then you’ll be skipping over one of the most important parts of Western Christian art history. And you never know just where you’ll run into one of the seven missing eggs.

The Faberge Museum © Shutterstock


‘The Lilies-of-the-Valley Easter Egg,’ made in 1898 © Shutterstock


Accessories from the House of Faberge at the Faberge Museum © Shutterstock

Faberge Museum, Where You’re Certain to See Faberge Eggs
The Faberge Museum is located in St. Petersburg. As you can tell by the name, this is one place where you’re certain to see the world’s most luxurious and expensive eggs. The museum holds over 4,000 pieces of decorative and fine art pieces, including paintings, porcelains and sculptures. The best part of the collection is clearly the eggs made for the Romanov imperial family. Nine Faberge eggs are on display in this museum. Getting to see authentic Faberge eggs makes the museum worth a visit.
The House of Faberge is one of the most famous jewelry shops in history. In addition to eggs, the museum also exhibits jewelry and accessories from the House of Faberge. The museum’s building itself is also something to behold. It’s housed in the 18th-century Shuvalov Palace, which was renovated for over seven years before the museum opened in 2013. Some meticulous work was done to recreate both inside and outside of the old palace, and the building is just as beautiful as the collection inside it.
Don’t forget to stop by the gift shop at the museum. You can purchase Faberge eggs – well, of course, they aren’t real. But because they’re replicas, they aren’t nearly as expensive. And these are far more elaborate than other replicas you’d find at souvenir shops in other parts of St. Petersburg.
Address 21, Fontanka river embankment, St. Petersburg, Russia
Inquiry +7-812-333-26-55



Where to Stay in St. Petersburg: LOTTE HOTEL ST. PETERSBURG
LOTTE HOTEL ST. PETERSBURG stands across St. Isaac’s Square, a popular attraction in the city. The main streets of Nevsky Prospekt, the Hermitage Museum and Mariinsky Theatre are all close by, making the hotel the perfect place for business travelers and tourists alike. The hotel is housed in a historic, 19th-century building since remodeled. Behind the antique exterior are 150 guest rooms with state-of-the-art facilities. ‘L Terrasa,’ an open-air bar on the sixth floor and a great spot from which to enjoy St. Petersburg’s summer white nights, is among a wide variety of bars and restaurants inside.
Address 2, Antonenko Lane, St. Petersburg, Russia
Inquiry +7-812-336-10-00
July 2020 Editor:Kim Hyewon
Writer:Yi Joonghan

Where to stay?

  • July 2020
  • Editor: Kim Hyewon
    Writer: Yi Joonghan
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