In a way, Carl Peter Fabergé did bling before bling was cool. The 19th-century jeweler and goldsmith was famous for his elaborate Russian Easter eggs, yes, but his other products ranged from necklaces to umbrella stands to doorbells. Everyday objects were elevated to luxury items with rubies and emeralds used as freely as rhinestones.
“You think of Fabergé, and you think of the eggs. But it's actually so much more,” said Latha Thomas, a spokesperson for the Houston Museum of Natural Science. “They always say if he was still designing now, it would probably be cell phone covers.”
A special HMNS exhibit now on display features more than 600 of these items that comprise the McFerrin Fabergé Collection. Dorothy McFerrin began her obsession on a lark, purchasing an egg unexpectedly at auction. However, she quickly learned her discovery was a fake. That disappointment led to an intense interest that ended with McFerrin purchasing so many Fabergé items that her namesake collection ranks among the largest in the United States.
The rarest find is perhaps the Diamond Trellis Egg, an Easter gift from Russian Tsar Alexander III to Tsarina Maria Feodorovna in 1892. Aside from its Fabergé pedigree, the Trellis Egg is remarkable for its thought-to-be-lost contents: a miniature elephant originally hidden inside the egg. On loan from the the British Royal Collection on behalf of Her Majesty The Queen, the elephant has been reunited with its egg for the first time in nearly a century.
And while this peak into the glitzy world of antique Russian jewelry may seem out of place at the HMNS, better known as the home of dinosaur bones and swarms of monarch butterflies, Thomas said the exhibit is a natural supplement to the museum’s permanent collection.
“We have one of the world's best mineral halls,” she said. “We want to always show that this is the mineral that comes out of the earth, and here is what man makes with these minerals.”
Fabergé: Royal Gifts. Tickets from $15. Houston Museum of Natural Science. 5555 Hermann Park Drive. 713-639-4629. hmns.org.