A small, automated elephant that was once concealed as a ‘surprise’ in the eighth Imperial Fabergé Egg, but thought to be lost, has been found — nestling all along in the collection of Great Britain’s Royal Family.
The Royal Collection Trust’s senior curator Caroline de Guitaut announced on October 10, during a conference at the Fabergé Museum in St. Petersburg, that she came upon the discovery whilst compiling a new catalogue of the Trust collection.
She was examining the figurine when she realized it fitted the description from Fabergé's general account ledger, which had listed the elusive object as an "ivory figure of an elephant, clockwork, with a small gold tower, partly enameled and decorated with rose-cut diamonds," and "a black mahout… seated on its head."
De Guitaut said in her presentation: "It suddenly struck me [that] it might be the very elephant. We removed the upper part of the tower, and my heart almost stopped beating: There was a Fabergé stamp on it.”
The Diamond Trellis Egg, made of gold, jadeite and rose-cut diamonds, was commissioned by Tsar Alexander III in 1892 to be presented to his wife Tsarina Maria Fedorovna for Easter that year. After the Russian Revolution, it was sold by the Soviet government, through the London dealer Wartski, after which it found several homes across the United Kingdom before landing in its current one, the McFerrin Collection in Houston in the United States.
At some point during its travels, the Egg was separated from its sculptural base of three cherubs, which remains missing, as well as the elephant, which somehow found its way to the British royal family — having been acquired by King George V in 1935.
The automaton, now restored, works perfectly. "Words cannot describe our emotions, when the winding key fit ideally to the mechanism, and the elephant started walking, moved its legs, nodded, for the first time in 80 years,” exclaimed de Guitaut.