The Imperial Russian court was renowned for awarding lavish gifts to Russian and foreign dignitaries, a tradition that flourished during the reign of Emperor Nicholas II. The responsibility of purchasing and allocating these awards, under the strict supervision of the Emperor, was given to the Imperial Cabinet.
With the popularity of smoking in the early part of the twentieth century, the cigarette case was a fashion accessory and status symbol. Thus it became a natural choice for an Imperial award. The designs for these cigarette cases typically featured an applied crowned Imperial double-headed eagle and the majority were supplied to the Imperial Cabinet by Fabergé, such as the present lot (U. Tillander-Godenhielm, The Russian Imperial Award System 1894-1917, Helsinki, 2005, p. 215).
The recipient of the present cigarette case, Captain John Nicholas, M.V.O., R.H.A., was appointed to be Superintendent of the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace in 1901. In this role, Captain Nicholas received a number of gifts from rulers and dignitaries wishing to express their gratitude for his assistance during their visits to the Palace.
A case of identical design enamelled in pale pink and presented by Emperor Nicholas II to Eduard Vella in May of 1902, for services rendered at the Russian consulate in Malta, was sold Christie's, Geneva, 17 November 1993, lot 310.
A related blue enamelled Imperial presentation cigarette case applied with a stylised Imperial double-headed eagle was sold as part of a Distinguished Midwestern Collection, Christie's, New York, 15 April 2013, lot 21. For a further related blue enamel presentation cigarette case with a diamond-set Imperial crown, see Property of a European Collector, Christie's, London, 28 November, 2011, lot 212.