This strange and awkward pastiche of Régence and Louis XV motifs was inspired by an automaton in the collections of the Hermitage by the English clockmaker James Cox (d. 1788). The baroque-style Cuckoo Egg, fashioned as a table clock, is one of six automated imperial Easter eggs created by Fabergé.
The egg, in dull yellow, green and red gold, is enameled opalescent white and translucent violet on a zigzag guilloche (1) field, and set with pearls and rose diamonds. The dial, which is encircled by pearls set in red polished gold, is enameled with translucent emerald green trefoils, and the rose diamond numerals are set on pale greenish white opalescent enamel within opaque white enamel rings. A yellow gold leaf pattern surrounds the central pivot on which the red gold hands revolve.
The egg is supported on an elaborate base set with three large rose diamonds by a central shaft and three struts enameled opalescent white. Though from a design standpoint, this egg is among the least interesting of the Imperial eggs (it was a theme Fabergé explored in several other eggs, including one made for Varvara Kelch which is also for sale at Sotheby's) technically it is a major clock making achievement in miniature, and prepares the way for several of Fabergé's more innovative pieces.
The egg, which cost 6500 rubles, was delivered to the Dowager Empress at the Anitchkov Palace, where it remained until it was also sold to Wartski in 1927. By 1949, the egg had been sold to Mrs. Isabella S. Low, who sold it back to Wartski in 1953. In 1970, it was sold by Wartski to a Washington DC developer, Robert H. Smith. On November 20, 1973, it was sold as lot 355 by Christie's Geneva to Bernard Solomon of Los Angeles for 207,000 dollars. On June 11, 1985, it was sold by Sotheby's New York as part of Mr. Solomon's divorce settlement, and was purchased by Forbes for $1,760,000 - setting a record at auction.
After eighty years of exile this egg has been returned home thanks to Russian businessman Viktor Vekselberg, Chairman of board of directors of Open Society "Sual-holding" who has purchased it from successors to Malcolm Forbes and has made it accessible to the Russian citizens. Sale of the Forbes' collection from Sotheby's auction in the beginning of 2004 could make objects channel off in separate collections and countries. Purchasing of the whole collection by V. Vekselberg before the advertised bidding is unprecedented in auction practice.
With every egg, Fabergé outdid himself in technique, detail or complex mechanics. Some of the world's best examples of handcrafted automata are hidden in the jeweled shells of the Imperial eggs.
When a button at the back of the clock is pressed, the circular pierced gold grille which surmounts it opens, and a cockerel, plumed with natural feathers, set with cabochon ruby eyes, and standing on gold legs, rises crowning on a gold platform, the beak and wings moving authentically, and when the crowing finishes, the cockerel descends once again into the egg. At the stroke of the hour, the ruby-eyed rooster emerges automatically, crowing and flapping its wings. On the top of the grille the date 1900 is inscribed beneath a diamond. Fabergé was known to have worked on the mechanism of the Peacock Clock in the Winter Palace, and his familiarity with that famous automaton no doubt inspired the creation of this egg.
(1) Guilloche = a decorative design in which two or more curved lines or bands are interwoven, forming a series of spaces between them.