In 1885, Alexander III initiated the custom of presenting his wife Maria Fedorovna with a Fabergé egg each Easter. Beginning with this particular egg, Nicholas II continued the family tradition.
After the death of Alexander III, in the short time remaining before the Easter holiday in 1896, Fabergé had not only to rework the egg that had originally been planned for Maria prior to her husband's death, but also to create an appropriate egg for Alexandra. The Twelve Monograms egg was the first Fabergé egg given by Czar Nicholas to his mother. Featuring in diamonds the royal insignia of Czar Alexander III set against a deep blue enamel background, Fabergé's understated creation was a fitting tribute for the mourning Dowager Empress.
The gold egg is covered with six blue champlevé enameled panels, each panel being divided by bands set with rose-cut diamonds, gilt with scrolls, and decorated with the Imperial crown and the Imperial monograms "MF" and "AIII," which are set in rose-cut diamonds, each monogram appearing six times; a portrait diamond surrounded by smaller diamonds surmounts the egg and another is set under the egg. Marie Fedorovna's monogram appears on the top half of the egg, Alexander III's, on the bottom half. The egg was a gift for Czar Alexander III's twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.
From this point on there are two eggs made each year, one for the Czarina Alexandra Fedorovna, and one for the Dowager Empress Marie Fedorovna.
In 1949 Marjorie Merriweather Post, General Foods heiress, purchased the egg. In 1973 after her death the 12 Monogram Egg became part of the collection of Hillwood Museum and Gardens, which had been her home in a suburb of Washington, DC.
The egg opens but the surprise is lost. Only under high magnification is it possible to notice the champlevé enamel technique. Areas for the enamel were carved out of the gold, leaving the thin red-gold ribs that form the foliate design. To the naked eye, it appears that the gold design was painted on the ovoid surface.
Missing folding miniature frame surprise without Alexander III miniatures by Zehngraf
A screen containing 6 portraits of the died Emperor was allegedly the surprise. The Dowager Empress, receiving this gift, wrote to her son Nicholas:
"My dear, sweet little treasure Nicky! Christ is Risen! My best congratulations on the glorious festival! I can't find words to express to you, my dear Nicky, how touched and moved I was on receiving your ideal egg with the charming portraits of your dear, adored Papa. It is all such a beautiful idea, with our monograms above it all, and thank you for it from the bottom of my soul, you have given me an emotional joy and it touches me more than I can say!"