I have a rather nice nineteenth century carriage clock which sits on my mantelpiece and I often wonder about the history of its ownership; for whom was it originally made, through whose hands has it passed – and if only it could speak, what stories it would tell one of the past; the trials and tribulations of its owners and of the world at large.
The possessions of the Romanov Imperial family, including many fine objects made by Carl Fabergé, have also had an interesting history. Since the chaos of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the seizure and sale of these items by the Bolsheviks in subsequent years, some items which were intended to be kept as a set became separated. This was certainly the case with the Diamond Trellis Egg and the hidden “surprise” which was originally contained within it.
An announcement was made in October of last year that a small automaton elephant, originally made as the surprise inside the Diamoned Trellis Egg (made by Carl Fabergé and commissioned by Tsar Alexander III in 1892), had been discovered at Buckingham Palace by Caroline de Guitaut among items of the Royal Collection Trust, of which she is curator. An excellent example of the lapidary work of Carl Fabergé, this little elephant is indeed a treasure. The elephant has a small gold tower on its back which is decorated with rose-cut diamonds and the sides of the elephant are covered in precious stones. The superlative workmanship employed in the making of this little toy certainly pointed to it being the work of Carl Fabergé and the maker’s label confirmed this to be the case. To Caroline’s delight the mechanism of the toy still worked – they wound the key and the elephant started to walk and nod it’s head for the first time in many decades. You can see a video of the moving elephant at the bottom of this news report.
The tiny elephant, by all accounts, was acquired by King George V in 1935. The Diamond Trellis Egg itself, originally a gift for the Empress Maria Feodorovna, was looted during the Russian Revolution of 1917 and eventually found its way to America where its now remains on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science at the behest of its owners, Artie and Dorothy McFerrin. It would be fascinating to know the exact details of the egg’s journey from Imperial ownership to its present day location. Like countless objects of beauty and vertu it has its own story to tell which reflects the turmoil of the world around us and the varying fortunes of its owners.
How wonderful it would be if these two treasures could be reunited once again, if only for a short time, and put on display for the benefit of all those who love the work of Carl Fabergé. The diamond Trellis Egg has been separated from its surprise for anything up to a hundred years. But I have attempted to reunite them here in music in the next movement of my little Fabergé Suite. In this piece of music I have attempted to reflect the strange, other-worldliness of the semi-translucent pale green jadeite used to make the egg as well as the gently shimmering rose-cut diamonds with which it is lined.
Listen out also for the toy elephant which is wound and brought to life as the track progresses! As always, listen with headphones if you are using a laptop, since the sound is far superior.