Tuesday’s Royal Trinket: The Blue Serpent Clock Egg by Fabergé

© The Royal Archivist. Photograph from an exhibit at Hillwood Museum. Apologies for the poor picture quality.

It’s always fascinating tracking the history and provenance of Fabergé items. Today’s trinket, the Blue Serpent Clock Egg by Fabergé, is nestled within the gilded halls of the Palais de Monaco. For a short time the egg was almost lost to history. Almost. Even the Grimaldi family was not aware of its provenance.

Here is the background:

Emperor Alexander III commissioned Fabergé for an easter egg as a gift for his wife, Empress Maria Feodorovna. However, the emperor died in 1894 and the Blue Serpent Clock Egg was not finished until 1895.* Instead, the Fabergé item became the very first egg the new tsar, Nicholas II, presented to his mother for Easter in 1895.

The Blue Serpent Clock Egg is a fitting tribute from a deceased husband to his beloved wife because the egg, made of gold, enamel and diamonds, represents love. Trails of roses are entwined on top of the enameled clock. If you look closely, you’ll note that the clock’s hand is a diamond-encrusted snake. A snake is no longer considered romantic, but it used to signify eternity. And if we dig a little deeper, perhaps the egg also alludes to eternal love because true love transcends a scant ticking clock. This egg functioned as a proper clock and was not made to hold a surprise.

After the revolution, the Blue Serpent Clock Egg made its way to the fabled vaults of Wartski. In 1972, Greek shipping tycoon Stavros Niarchos purchased the Blue Serpent Clock Egg from Wartski. It is at this point in time that the egg disappeared from history.

Wartski lost track of the egg until they received a letter in 1990 penned by His Serene Highness Prince Rainier III of Monaco. In the letter, the prince explained that the egg was given to him many years earlier by Mr. Niarchos. The prince was unaware of its imperial provenance until Wartski provided him with a history of the clock. Prince Rainier even loaned it to Wartski for an exhibit.

Today the egg is part of the personal collection of His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco. It is generally not on view, but you may be able to spot it at exhibitions around the world. I was lucky enough to have seen it at Hillwood Museum in Washington, D.C.

PS. You can find two more Fabergé eggs (with much better photographs) here.

*Earlier reports date this egg to 1897, but today it is certain that it was made in St. Petersburg in 1895.

Sources

Wartski: The First One Hundred and Fifty Years by Geoffrey Munn

Fabergé Revealed exhibit at Hillwood Museum