There were 50 known delivered Faberge (supervised by Carl Faberge) Imperial Easter Eggs produced, the last being the `Order of Saint George` in 1916.
46 have survived in private ownership or museum pieces with our own Queen Elizabeth being an admirer of these crafted masterpiece, owning 3.
Question marks remain over the whereabouts of the 4 known missing eggs and have been the subject of conjecture and searches for decades.
There are two other eggs one of which, the 1917 `Constellation` egg intended for Tsar Nicholas II, was unfinished, now rests in a museum. At that time however in March 1917 Nicholas had abdicated in favour of his brother Grand Duke Michael and then put under house arrest at his Alexandra Palace by the Bolsheviks, the egg remained undelivered.
The ` Karelian Birch` egg also produced in 1917, was finished in advance of Easter and due to wartime austerity was crafted in wood. This egg was sent to Gatchina Palace for Tsar Nicholas`s brother, Grand Duke Michael to receive and pass onto his mother Maria, but he too was under house arrest in St Petersburg and never received it, and thus remained undelivered.
Towards the end of 1917 the famous Faberge factory was taken over by the Bolsheviks and effectively nationalised. This broke the heart of Carl as now he was merely an employee of the State with a reduced order book and client base. His estimated wealth before the `takeover` was 3,000,000 roubles, but now suddenly penniless.
As there was little work available at the factory, the reduced creative staff tried to keep busy in fear of being dismissed with no hope of ever obtaining a job again. Fictitious commissions from dwindling client accounts were created giving the appearance of keeping busy enough to keep as many of his employees in work. This meant high value precious metals, jewellery and uncut stones were kept at the factory. The guards were rather ineffective in security issues where stock in the factory went unchecked, giving Carl the opportunity to rescue some personal wealth.
Now, “what if” (advancing this story) ………….
In the winter of 1918, Carl Faberge had secretly produced a rather rudimentary egg at his home of some limited value with little creative flair and helped by his chief designer Henrik Wigström. The purpose was to use the egg as a vessel in his quest to gather as much negotiable wealth from his factory and transport these out of the Russia and into a UK bank. Over the winter months he `stole` jewels and pearls from the factory hiding them in hollowed-out heels of his winter boots. Finally, in February he had filled the Egg and was ready to execute his plans.
Carl was a good friend of Albert Stopford, an English Gentleman émigré, a covert member of MI6 and well-respected courier of art treasures into and out of Russia and known to the Romanovs and Gentry. A likeable trustworthy and clever negotiator who soon befriended the rising Bolshevik elite enabling him to move their stolen treasure into foreign vaults and accounts. Moving easily around the incoming and exiting powerbases, he was in a unique position to know exactly what was going on with the respective enemies…. Romanovs and Bolsheviks.
He knew that Grand Duke Michael was being courted by the WW I allies to spearhead their planned invasion of Russia at Archangel during the summer of 1918. Knowing more than most, he advised Carl that Michael was hoping to be secreted out of Russia to the UK in the coming days to meet the allied war cabinet.
Albert arrived at Gatchina with his friend Carl clutching his last and most precious Easter Egg stuffed with high value jewel’s, to meet Michael in the hope that he could somehow transport the egg to the UK, into the safety of a bank vault.
Michael was shocked as Carl handed over the Egg and astonished at its weight. Protests from Michael were overtaken by the plight of its creator, whom he knew well, and seeing him weeping in distress, meant that he should comply.
Under constant Cheka surveillance, he became cautious in his preparations for his clandestine visit to the UK and thought adding Carl Faberge’s egg to his own treasures would be risky. He decided to hide it within the leather rear seats of his favourite Rolls Royce hidden in a dilapidated overgrown barn on the outer ring of the palace grounds. Upon his return the `egg` could be made available for Albert Stopford to transport them into the Crimea for Carl to collect.
Was this the rumoured 51st Faberge Egg?
A Final Resting Place
Upon Michaels return from the UK, he and Nicholas Johnson were immediately jailed and subsequently sent to Perm under house arrest at the Korolev Hotel. Living in difficult conditions in a hotel they were eventually allowed some luxuries and amongst other comfort items Michael sent for his Rolls Royce languishing in Gatchina. To his delight when it arrived, he realised the Fabergé Egg was still hidden in the rear car seating.
Michael was being monitored by 3 British MI6 spies who had travelled to Perm arriving before Michael and Johnson. They were planning to spring him from the hotel, but in the meantime keeping him safe until the allied invasion took place. One of the spies Sidney Reilly, was a multi linguist and employed as a receptionist at the hotel whilst working undercover during Michael`s arrest.
Plans to free Michael were made for 13th. June 1918.
Coincidently that evening Michael with his secretary Nicholas Johnson were dragged from their hotel by Bolshevik thugs and driven with 2 other carriages out of the City to a forest clearing on the outskirts of Perm. Reilly, realising Michael was in danger, grabbed his Beretta and the Faberge Egg (never knowing if he would return) and set off in pursuit with his 2 colleagues.
Arriving at the clearing, hiding in bushes they witnessed Michael and Johnson being gunned down. Lying motionless seeing the assassins cover the bodies with bushes and branches overhead them discussing they would return the following night to bury the bodies. The assassins left.
They crept over to the bodies where Reilly was astounded to discover Michael was still alive, but Johnson was clearly dead. His plans to get him out of Russia took a major turn especially as he realised Michael needed urgent medical attention. Gently he was laid in one of the assassins abandoned carriages together with Johnson`s body, thus adding confusion to the story of their disappearance and drove several kilometres to a small tributary on the banks of the River Karma. There they dug out a grave in the soft earth and buried Johnson.
A thought occurred to Reilly, not wanting to handle any further the very heavy egg full of Faberge jewels, he buried the egg alongside Johnson ….and there it might remain to date.
This `what if` mystery continues in the docu/novel
`The Two Lives of Grand Duke Michael`