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. At the stroke of the hour, a ruby-eyed rooster emerges crowing and flapping its wings from the top of the elaborately designed Cockerel egg (1900). 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.
"Fabergé, who had traveled a lot, had absorbed all the currents, the various artistic currents, in Paris, in Florence, in Dresden, in London," says author Géza Von Habsburg. "He could go back to this memory bank and select objects from it. For instance, the Bay Tree egg in the Forbes Magazine Collection is based on an 18th century mechanical orange tree, a French automaton, which was a fairly well-known object which Fabergé must have seen during his travels.
Other eggs that Fabergé made were based on objects he saw in the imperial treasury and used as prototypes for his first eggs." The Bay Tree egg (1911) is laden with gemstone fruits set among carved jade leaves. Turning one of the fruits opens the top of the egg as the tiny bellows inside produce the sweet song of a feathered bird.
As if to bolster the Czar's self-image during his most trying times, Fabergé presented Nicholas with a series of eggs commemorating achievements of the Romanovs. In lavish Rococo style, the Peter the Great egg (1903) celebrated the two-hundredth anniversary of the founding St. Petersburg; the Napoleonic egg (1912) honored the Motherland's victory over the French general and his armies.
In 1913, the three-hundred-year rule of Russia under the House of Romanov was recorded in the portraits encircling the Tercentenary egg (1913) from the founder, Mikhail Fedorovich, to Catherine the Great, and Nicholas himself. The white enameled shell of this egg is nearly obscured by over eleven hundred diamonds and golden symbols of royal order. Inside, a globe of burnished steel inlaid in gold displays the frontiers of Russia in 1613 and the vastly extended borders of Russia under Nicholas II.
Two Eggs presented to the Dowager Empress Maria Fedorovna the Winter egg (1913) and the Grisaille egg (1914) may best represent the height of Fabergé's career, expressions in miniature of the life of Imperial privilege. Both were kept at Maria's favorite Anichkov Palace: one inspired by the serene surroundings in winter; the other by the opulent embellishments of the palace interior, where many of the ceilings are painted en grisaille.