By 1901, Nicholas and Alexandra had been blessed with four daughters, and in 1904 an anxiously awaited boy and heir to the throne was born. As the family grew, paintings of the children became a recurring theme, and the best loved surprises were souvenirs of family memories. "Faberge knew that miniatures were always going to be a crowd pleaser," says Faberge collector Christopher Forbes. "The family was very sentimental and very close, and they loved pictures of each other. And what better place to put them than in a little trefoil frame hidden inside an egg, or literally decorating the whole shell of an egg. So portrait miniatures are probably Ц in terms of the whole history of the eggs Ц the single most popular surprise."
The Lilies of the Valley egg (1898) is a translucent pink-enameled treasure covered with gold-stemmed flowers made of pearls, diamonds and rubies. One flower, when turned, releases a geared mechanism inside to raise the fan of tiny miniatures from the top Ц portraits of the Czar and his first two daughters, Olga and Tatiana. Every spring, Alexandra had the rooms of the palaces filled with beautiful floral bouquets. Faberge knew that pink was the favorite color of the Empress, and lilies of the valley her favorite flower.
The jade Alexander Palace egg (1908) contains a perfect replica of their favorite royal residence in the country Ц only two and one half inches long. And sailing on the clear rock crystal sea of the Standart egg (1909), is a replica of their royal yacht Ц reproduced to the last detail Ц where many happy days were spent together. "I think that was where Faberge differed so much from all the other jewelers of the period," adds author Lynette Proler. "Where they were only interested in large gemstones, Carl Faberge was interested in the ultimate effect that a piece would have, a lasting effect so that every time you looked at a particular object, you would have this great sense of sheer enjoyment and pleasure from it."
Faberge knew both the joys and sorrows of the Romanovs. According to Proler, "It wasn't very well known, of course Ц the Imperial family kept it very quiet Ц that the Czarevich had hemophilia. He was dying; he was very close to death, so close that the Imperial Court had already written out his death notice. But Alexei survived, and Faberge designed a special tribute. The Czarevich egg (1912) was Alexandra's most cherished.
In 1900, the railway that would link European Russia with the Pacific coast was near completion, an accomplishment that brought Nicholas great satisfaction and the support of his country. Faberge devised an ingenious offering to celebrate the event. Etched on a belt of silver encircling the Trans-Siberian Railway egg (1900) is a map of the railway line, the stations marked in precious stones. And inside is a little train just one foot long.
"It's made out of gold and platinum, and its headlights are diamonds, and its rear lights are rubies, and the coaches are individually labeled for gentlemen, for smoking, for ladies. There was a restaurant car, and at the end there was the traveling church, which was appended to the Imperial train. It winds up, and I've tried it myself," says author Geza von Habsburg. "The mechanism is a bit rusty, and it moves slowly, but it's like a sort of old 'dinky toy.'"
But most Russians had no time for toys. The zeal to expand the empire led to a disasterous war with Japan and further demoralized the country. Hopeless wars, famine, disease and despair were unraveling the fabric of faith the Czar's people once had in the divine right and benevolence of the monarchy. Choosing to believe in the unfailing devotion of his people, Nicholas became a prisoner of his self-delusion.
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