This egg brings us back to one of Fabergé's greatest works. Presented to Dowager Empress Marie by Nicholas II, this egg brings together the best of the automaton skill learned in the Lily of the valley egg and the Cockerel Egg, but combines it with the ability to reference eighteenth century objects without copying them. Based on a mechanical tubbed Bay Tree of Eighteenth century origin by the French jeweler and clockmaker, Richard, the egg also references a similar piece which was in the collection of Dowager Empress Marie, and her sister Queen Alexandra of Great Britain at the home they shared, "Hvidøre" in their native Denmark.
The design of the Orange Tree Imperial Easter Egg differs from the other examples. The Romanov court avidly imitated French fashions of every type. This elegant object was inspired by Eighteenth Century French music boxes in the shape of orange trees. The egg, composed of a Louis XVI style planter from which grows a bay tree with finely engraved nephrite (1) leaves, citrine, amethyst, ruby and champagne diamond 'berries' and white enamel flowers with diamond-set pistils.
In the case of this magnificent work, the foliage of the tree forms the egg shape, in fact quite round rather than ovate, which rests on a trunk that stands in a nephrite base with four nephrite posts at the corners connected by swags of green enamel leaves and pearl. The quartz tub is applied with gold trellis and green laurel swags suspended from rubies filled with hammered gold soil.
Created at a cost of 12,800 rubles, it was the most expensive egg to date. Removed from the Anitchkov palace, this egg was sent to SovNarKom in 1922, and sold to Wartski in 1927. Sold by Wartski in 1934 to Allan Hughes for 950 pounds, it was bought back by Wartski in 1939. It appears in public for the first time when it was sold by Sotheby's London on July 10, 1947 for 1,650 GBP, and passed through several owners until being acquired by Forbes in 1965 for $35,000.
Like the other Fabergé Eggs, the Orange Tree Egg also has a secret. The surprise concealed within this tree is a little mechanical bird, covered in real feathers. If the correct "orange" is turned, a portion of the foliage at the top of the tree rises and a feathered nightingale emerges singing while moving its head, wings, and opening and closing the beak. A small bellows inside produce the sweet song of the feathered bird as the entire tree revolves on its trunk. When the melody ends, the bird disappears automatically.
This charming and graceful work, must have pleased the Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna when she received it on Easter morning in 1911 - she turned the correct gemstone "orange" and the little bird emerged singing.
The Egg was confiscated by the Provisional Government in 1917 and transferred from the Anchikov Palace to the Kremlin. It was one of nine eggs sold by Antikvariat to Emanuel Snowman of Wartski around 1927. It has since passed through the hands of five different owners and was sold by Mrs .Mildred Kaplan to Malcolm Forbes in 1965. In 2004 it was sold by the Forbes' family to the Vekselberg Foundation/The Link of Times-Collection, Russia.
(1) Nephrite = a less precious type of jade.