I’m anxious to share the accomplishment of both that learning & the piece of my creative history I am pleased has come back into my possession…
First, a bit of introductory story…
I was commissioned to make this object in 1983, during the years I was working in Sedona, Arizona. It was to be a gift commemorating the birthday of a patron of mine from his partner. They knew I had long dreamed of emulating the fabulous eggs made by Faberge for the last two Russian Czars, as Easter gifts to their Czarinas.
You may google to find many images of these rare pieces. I will share just a few of my favorites to introduce the tradition I followed in my own manner.
The first was quite simple, enameled white which opened to introduce a gold yolk which opened in turn to reveal a small hen…
Over the years they became much more elaborate… with colored enamels & stones…
I love the mosaic of this one, a relatively smooth texture… almost simple, compared to many others!
The Coronation Egg shelters a miniature replica of the state coach.
The Kremlin egg is a favorite to my love of the architectural…
So the bar was set high for me & I knew I could not match the materials in our budget, but I wanted to attempt making a piece which hinted at richness & reflected some similar elaboration. The metal of this egg is sterling silver, with some gold details inside.
Little did I know at the beginning what an adventure the project would become! I wonder if I might not have reconsidered if I had, but in that moment this seemed a dream come true. I blithely made an estimate, collected a deposit & began to lathe a blank wax on which I could begin to draw & design.
My client suggested the theme of iris & heron, offering as example a painted image he liked. Additionally, he requested a pagoda, which I resisted at first, but which ultimately became a very functional part of the design… as it became the hinge allowing the piece to open.
I acquired several pieces of mastodon ivory from another jeweler friend who had long worked with that material… which, unlike elephant ivory, is legal because the animal is extinct. The tusks occasionally are discovered in the melting glaciers of Alaska which have preserved them for thousands of years. I carved two heron from that lovely warm almost amber-colored bony texture, which resembles quite hard-dried soap
The bird on the outside is carved in low relief, nearly flush with the curving surface. The second heron, sculpted in the round, anticipated becoming the surprise, as the interior would become the same scene in three dimensions.
Most Faberge Imperial eggs had “surprises” some sort & I knew I wanted to plan toward some similar device as well.
I acquired several pieces of mastodon ivory from another jeweler friend who had long worked with that material… which, unlike elephant ivory, is legal because the animal is extinct. The tusks occasionally are discovered in the melting glaciers of Alaska which have preserved them for thousands of years. I carved two heron from that lovely warm almost amber-colored bony texture with a distinctive moire patterning.
The bird on the outside is carved in low relief, nearly flush with the curving surface. I carved a second bird with wings spread in flight & imagined it somehow in motion. I anticipated it becoming the surprise, as the interior would become a scene in three dimensions. Spending months cogitating this bit of “mecanique” I eventually devised a cam on the hinge to pivot the bird into subtle motion.
The bird flies over a Lapis Lazuli lake surrounded by a “fence” of reeds & additional iris, all cast in 14K gold.
The egg sits & turns on its base from which it can be lifted to be held in the hand to be examined more closely as one opens, allowing one to observe the close interior drama.
I collected faceted trapezoidal chrome tourmalines to tuck their deep green into the leaves… also oval tanzanites, whose purple color suggested the blooms of iris . When it came time to fashion the catch, I used a cabochon sapphire as the thumb piece. Finally, I cut a flat slab of lapis lazuli to suggest a lake collected in the bottom of the interior.
The sequence of the process was quite experimental as I gradually wrestled how to pull all these notions & parts into some cohesive concept. It is interesting that my journal seems to record very little about this project… although I have not re-read the entire period as yet. My memory knows that it absorbed me for some 18 months, missing the first deadline & being finished almost literally on the day of the next birthday, when it was concealed under an egg-shape, woven of palm leaves, as part of the floral centerpiece during dinner until being lifted for the presentation of the egg, just before dessert with champagne.
These images show the piece when it was fresh. It is in its present state, needing repair. The ivory has dried & cracked in the desert atmosphere & several parts of that material are lost, needing replacement. I’m researching how best to accomplish such restorative surgery. I will make more photographs when that work is finished.
I also need to document a manual, as it were… demonstrating how the engineering functions with the joinery of more than a dozen pieces articulating in a system with a variety of clicks & clamps, hinge pins, cams & toggles… all of which contrive to allow me to assemble, disassemble & re-assemble those parts all those hundreds of times during the design process… plus to disassemble it again now & in future for cleaning & repair.