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The Fabergé Egg

Happy New Year – let’s keep it moving!

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You could google it but … Fabergé eggs are famous for converting huge amounts of skill, technology and money into an ornament that has no practical use other than to bring ‘delight’ upon being given one and opening it to find a ‘surprise’. The most famous and extravagant eggs were made for the Imperial family of Russia – until they all were executed in 1918, that is. (The eggs may or may not have had something to do with that.) Anyway, the image above is of the first and probably the simplest of the Imperial Eggs. The quoted descriptions below are from the wonderful site Treasures of Imperial Russia.

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The topiary tree formed as a profusion of carved nephrite, finely veined leaves and jeweled fruit and flowers on an intricate framework of branches, the fruit formed by champagne diamonds, amethysts, pale rubies and citrines, the flowers enameled white and set with diamonds, a keyhole and a tiny lever, hidden among the leaves, when activated open the hinged circular top of the tree and a feathered songbird rises, flaps its wings, turns its head, opens its beak and sings, the gold trunk chased to imitate bark and planted in gold soil is contained in a white quartz tub applied with a gold trellis chased with flowerheads at the intersections and further applied with swags of berried laurel enameled translucent green and pinned by cabochon rubies, the central rubies edged by diamonds, each foot of the tub also applied with chased gold rosettes set with cabochon rubies and diamonds, the corners of the tub with pearl finials, the square carved nephrite base in two steps with a miniature nephrite fluted column at each corner set with chased gold mounts, each column with a reeded gold cap surmounted by a pearl nestled in translucent green enamel leaves, the swinging gold chains between the columns formed as pearl flowers with translucent green enamel leaves, inscribed Fabergé in Cyrillic with the date 1911 on lower front rail of the tub.

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Enameled translucent strawberry red over a guilloché ground and applied with neorococo gold scrolls and foliage, opening along a vertical diamond-set seam to reveal a removable diamond-set platinum miniature basket of wood anemones, the flowers with chalcedony petals and demantoid pistils, the egg fastening at the top by means of a diamond-set clasp, the lobed bowenite base with a diamond-set girdle and with a gold rim pierced with neorococo shell work and scrolls.

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An annular clock in the form of an Easter egg enameled translucent rose pink over a guilloché ground, the white enamel chapter ring with diamond-set Roman numerals between borders of seed pearls, the top of the egg applied with varicolor gold floral swags pendent from diamond-set ribbon bows, the finial in the form of a diamond-encrusted acorn, the C-scroll handles rising from rams’ head masks and topped with acanthus leaves, a diamond-encrusted serpent encircles the egg, its arrow-form tongue indicating the hour, each side of the trilateral pedestal enameled translucent oyster over a guilloché ground, one side applied with the diamond-set monogram of Consuelo, Duchess of Marlborough, below a diamond-set ducal coronet, the second side applied with a varicolor gold cornucopia and the third side with a varicolor gold love trophy, the top of the pedestal enameled translucent oyster with rose pink reserves at the corners, the pilaster corners and the top border of the pedestal enameled translucent rose pink and applied with gold bellflowers, the lower gold border chased with acanthus leaves, each foot enameled translucent rose pink and
applied with a chased gold pattern.

The descriptions themselves are amazing for some of the names of exotic substances I’d never even heard of (chalcedony? nephrite? bowenite? demantoid? champagne diamonds? citrines? seed pearls?). Of course there is the sheer level of craftsmanship involved. Those guys were good. There’s the crazy level of excess when money is no object.

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visit Dotota Dybala’s blog for more photographs from a recent exhibition.

Some of the eggs had clocks and springs and elaborate mechanisms to make a feathered songbird pop out  – sorry – rise, flap its wings, turn its head, open its beak and sing. Now how exactly do you go about making that happen?

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I’ve no doubt it’s clever. I’ve no doubt many intelligent people spent a lot of time thinking about how to do it. There might have been a workshop competition for ideas for the next egg. There would have been pressure to keep up the surprise factor and to not have any two the same. These things were those ‘marks of opulence’ that people used to show they had money to spare. (‘Marks of Opulence’ btw, is a book by Colin Platt that charts the economic history of art – where economics meets aesthetics, and is crammed with interesting facts like how the Americans first invested in the Impressionists, etc.)

So what are today’s Fabergé eggs? What do people who have too much money, spend that money on? In much the same vein as Fabergé eggs, here’s a watch that belongs/ed to a member of the Qatari royal family and that apparently costs £11 million ($17.6 mil.).

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Sotheby’s filing reveals for the first time that Al- Thani is the owner of the Graves Supercomplication, which has a star chart showing changes in the night sky over Manhattan and a minute recorder that plays the same melody as Big Ben, the bell of the clock tower at the Palace of Westminster in London.

Here’s the world’s most expensive car that you can legally drive on a road. It’s a Bugatti Veyron Super Sports and is worth $2,400,000 which is a snip compared with the watch.

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This is by far the most expensive street legal production car available on the market today (the base Veyron costs $1,700,000). Capable of reaching 0-60 mph in 2.5 seconds, the Veyron is the fastest street legal car when tested again on July 10, 2010 with the 2010 Super Sport Version reaching a top speed of 267 mph.

And here is the most expensive building in the world, in terms of $/sq.m – Antilia. At approximately $1 billion which translates to $53,000/sq.m that makes it more than four times the cost/sq.m of Yankee Stadium ($1.63 bil., $12,230/sq.m) and more than ten times more expensive per square meter than Burj Khalifa ($1.55 bil.,$4,847/sq.m).

The home, which is called Antilia after a mythical island, is located in Mumbai, India. Owned by Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani, the residence boasts 400,000 square feet, three helicopter pads, underground parking for 160 cars, and requires a staff of 600 to run.

Though the building is 27 storeys tall, BBC News notes that many of the floors are double- or triple-height, so the building rises to 570 feet – the equivalent of a 40-story structure.

The house is reported to be worth more than $1 billion, which will not affect Ambani’s bank balance too significantly. The energy magnate is one of the top 5 richest men in the world, and is said to be worth approximately $22 billion, according to Forbesmagazine. (huff post world)

There’s a lot of surprises inside. More stuff.

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Perkins + Will won the commission for Antilia in 2004, besting Foster + Partners, SITE, Wilkinson & Eye, and Ken Yang. The building occupies a one-acre site on Altamount Road, where real estate prices top $1,000 per-square-foot. Construction had reached Antilia’s mid-section garden, but was halted this summer after a land dispute. Although the delay is expected to be temporary, many Indians nevertheless feel that the residence flaunts the country’s socialist sensitivities—and that it is excessive and ostentatious given that more than 65 percent of Mumbai’s 18 million residents live in tenements. [Arch Record]

So you see, the old classifications just don’t cut it anymore.

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This is 2013! I would like to announce a third and equally simplistic way of looking at buildings – The Fabergé Egg! I reckon we’ll be seeing more of them.