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From Russia With Love

The story of Fabergé is inextricably linked to the lives, loves and tragedy of the last Romanov Tsar Nicholas II and his Empress Alexandra, and to the Russian Revolution that changed the course of world history.

Peter Carl Fabergé, legendary artist-jeweller, goldsmith to the Russian Imperial Court, was the creative and entrepreneurial genius behind the world-renowned company. Born in 1846, and apprenticed as a boy to his goldsmith father, Gustav Fabergé, a modest jeweller of French Huguenot ancestry, Fabergé joined his father’s business around 1860. By the time he was 24, he had taken over control of all aspects of his fa¬ther’s business. Like many of these firms, Fabergé sold items to the Imperial Court of Russia. How¬ever, the younger Fabergé soon set the family business apart. Gradually, Fabergé emerged as the most fashionable jeweller in Russia, thanks to a fateful commission in 1885.


Educated in St Petersburg and Dresden where he fell under the mesmerizing influence of the Renaissance and Baroque treasures in the fa¬mous Green Vaults. As a young man he travelled extensively, immersing himself in the cultural de¬lights of the Grand Tour, including the Medici Renaissance treasures in Florence. He studied in Paris and received expert tuition from goldsmiths in France, Germany and England.
He captured his extraordinary moment in time through exquisite jewels and precious objects that still resonate today with the passions and poignancy of a lost world. Deeply imbued with the spirit of their age, these masterpieces remain timeless in their recherché beauty, breathtaking craftsmanship and absolute dedication to per¬fection.
Peter Carl Fabergé became jeweller and goldsmith to the great Russian Impe¬rial Court, creating exquisite jewels and objects, including the legendary series of lavish and ingenious Imperial Easter Eggs.

If anything speaks of the opulence and luxury enjoyed by the most privileged classes, it is the work of the House of Fabergé. In fact, the thought of owning one of the 50 Imperial eggs created by the enigmatic jeweller for the wives of Russian Czars Alexander III and Nicholas II can make any collector wistful.
The series of lavish Easter eggs created by Fabergé for the Russian Imperial family, be¬tween 1885 and 1916, against an extraordi¬nary historical backdrop, is regarded as the artist-goldsmith’s greatest and most enduring achievement. The Imperial Easter eggs are certainly the most celebrated and awe-inspiring of all Fabergé works of art, inextricably bound to the Fabergé name and legend. They are also considered as some of the last great commis¬sions of objets d’art.
The story began when Tsar Alexander III de¬cided to give a jewelled Easter egg to his wife the Empress Marie Fedorovna, in 1885, pos¬sibly to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their betrothal. It is believed that the Tsar, who had first become acquainted with Fabergé’s virtuoso work at the Moscow Pan-Russian Exhibition in 1882, was inspired by an 18th century egg owned by the Empress’s aunt, Princess Wilhelm¬ine Marie of Denmark. The object was said to have captivated the imagination of the young Maria during her childhood in Denmark. Tsar Al¬exander was apparently involved in the design and execution of the egg, making suggestions to Fabergé as the project went along. Easter was the most important occasion of the year in the Russian Orthodox Church, equivalent to Christmas in the West. A centuries-old tradition of bringing hand-coloured eggs to Church to be blessed and then presented to friends and fam¬ily, had evolved through the years and, amongst the highest echelons of St Petersburg society, the custom devel¬oped of presenting valu¬ably bejewelled Easter gifts. So it was that Tsar Alexander III had the idea of commissioning Fabergé to create a precious Easter egg as a surprise for the Empress, and thus the first Imperial Easter egg was born.


Each egg, an artistic tour de force, took a year or more to make, involving a team of highly skilled craftsmen, who worked in the greatest secrecy. Fabergé was given complete freedom in the design and execution, with the only prerequisite being that there had to be surprise within each creation. Dreaming up each complex concept, Fabergé often drew on family ties, events in Im¬perial Court life, or the milestones and achieve¬ments of the Romanov dynasty, as in the Fifteenth Anniversary Egg of 1911, commemorating the fif¬teenth anniversary of Nicholas II’s accession to the throne, or the Romanov Tercentenary Egg of 1913 that celebrated 300 years of the House of Romanov, showing portrait miniatures of the Rus¬sian dynastic rulers. Although the theme of the Easter eggs changed annually, the element of surprise remained a constant link between them. The surprises ranged from a perfect miniature replica of the Coronation carriage - that took 15 months to make working 16-hour days - through a mechanical swan and an ivory elephant, to a heart-shaped frame on an easel with 11 minia¬ture portraits of members of the Imperial family.
Alexander III presented an egg each year to his wife the Empress Marie Fedorovna and the tradition was continued, from 1895, by his son Nicholas II who presented an egg annually to both his wife the Empress Alexandra Fedorovna and to his mother the Dowager Empress Marie Fedorovna. However, there were no presenta¬tions during 1904 and 1905 because of politi¬cal unrest and the Russo-Japanese War.

The most expensive was the 1913 Winter Egg, which was invoiced at 24,600 roubles (then £2,460). Prior to the Great War, a room at Clar¬idges was 10 shillings (50 pence) a night com¬pared to approximately £380 today. Using this yardstick, the egg would have cost £1.87 million in today’s money.
The Winter Egg, designed by Alma Pihl, famed for her series of diamond snowflakes, is made of carved rock crystal as thin as glass. This is em¬bellished with engraving, and ornamented with platinum and diamonds, to resemble frost. The egg rests on a rock-crystal base designed as a block of melting ice. Its surprise is a magnificent and platinum basket of exuberant wood anemo¬nes. The flowers are made from white quartz, nephrite, gold and demantoid garnets and they emerge from moss made of green gold. Its overall height is 14.2cm. It is set with 3,246 dia¬monds. The egg sold at Christie’s in New York in 2002 for US$9.6 million.

Where are they now?
Of the fifty Faberge eggs, the whereabouts of 42 are known. After the Revolution, Carl Faberge and his family fled the country. During the chaos of 1917, many eggs were lost. The two eggs which were scheduled to be delivered for Easter 1917, the Constellation Egg and the Karelian Birch Egg, were never given to the Tsar. In fact the Constellation egg was not completely finished. This is probably why it was only discov¬ered years later, sitting in the Moscow Mining Museum covered with dust, while staff thought it was a lamp. Both are now in the Kunsthaller Museum in Munich.

The late Malcolm Forbes began collecting Fabergé in the 1960s, eventually purchasing nine eggs. It was the Forbes collection that Victor Vekselberg, a Russian oil tycoon, bought in 2004. This collection included the Hen’s Egg and the Lilies of the Valley egg. Vekselberg planned to restore the collection and at long last after many years of exile return them to Russia.
The Moscow Kremlin Armoury holds ten eggs including the 300 –anniversary of the Romanovs egg. While not all are on display at once, the eggs are an arresting sight. Amongst the Museum’s many riches, these tiny objects (the Hen Egg is just 6.4cm high) are indisputably the crowds‘ favourite. No need to ask anyone where they are - just look for the glass display case surrounded by people.

Though the eggs were Fabergé’s calling card, they were only a fraction of the beautiful and in¬novative items that emerged from these storied workshops. Fabergé produced thousands of items, including Jewellery, compacts, hard stone figures and flower sculptures, and silver flatware services. While the Imperial eggs were the unques¬tioned showpieces, these other items were crafted as the money makers of Fabergé’s business.

Collecting Fabergé today requires a bit of savvy, as there are tax, security and insurance concerns to be dealt with. Many collectors choose to work with art dealers, who represent their clients at auction. Fortunately, Fabergé items do come to auction quite frequently. Some of the most desirable pieces include household items, such as a silver-mounted and cut-glass two-handled vase, circa 1890, which was auctioned by Bon¬ham’s for £21,600 in 2005 or the large silver-mounted cut-glass centrepiece, created in the Moscow workshop circa 1908-1917, which was auctioned by Bonham’s in 2006 for £128,800. Smaller, more personal items are also popular and available, such as a silver, gilt-and-pink enamel cigarette case that was auctioned by Sotheby’s for £9,988 in 2002.

In recent years, the McFerrin Collection has become one of the world’s most im¬portant private collections of Fabergé. While many of the pieces in this collec¬tion have been featured individually in other exhibitions and publications over the past 60 years, this is a rare oppor¬tunity to see this magnificent collection.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE EXHIBITION: INCLUDE

Empress Josephine Tiara:

Fabergé created this diamond tiara around 1890. The stunning briolette diamonds were a gift from Tsar Alexander I to the Empress Jose¬phine after her divorce from Napoleon Bona¬parte. This piece is one of only a few tiaras ever made by Fabergé.

The Nobel Ice Egg:

Tsar Alexander III commissioned the first egg ever created by the House of Fabergé in 1885 as an Easter present for his wife, Tsarina Maria Feodorovna. His son Nicholas II later commis¬sioned such treasures for his wife Alexandra and for his mother, continuing a tradition that would last more than 30 years. Fabergé made eggs for only a small number of other clients; one of those was Swedish industrialist Dr. Emanuel No¬bel, who commissioned this treasure between 1913 and 1914. This piece, a jeweled, enam¬eled presentation egg, is also referred to as the “Snowflake Egg,” its shell ingeniously enameled and engraved to simulate the tracery of frost against a misted ground. It opens to reveal a “surprise”—a rock crystal and diamond pendant watch. The unique watch design was created specifically for Dr. Nobel and interpreted in oth¬er Jewellery pieces by Fabergé, some of which Dr. Nobel gave as favors at his dinner parties.

Nicholas II Presentation Box:
The Imperial Russian court was renowned for the lavish gifts presented to foreign dignitaries visit¬ing Russia.
Fabergé made hundreds of presentation boxes, but many connoisseurs consider this his finest. Made of gold and decorated with enamel and diamonds, the box features the cipher of Tsar Nicholas II on the cover. The Emperor presented the box to Leon Bour¬geois, a French politician and statesman in 1902. Bourgeois was one of 90 foreigners to receive a snuffbox with the Emperor’s initials.

The Wedding Clock:
One of the first furnishings they se¬lected for their marital home, the clock has a blue enamel finish sig¬nifying true love. From an appren¬ticeship in goldsmithing to becoming “Goldsmith to the Imperial Crown,” Carl Fabergé led an ex¬traordinary life creating unparalleled wonders. Learn more about the events that shaped this leg¬endary jeweller’s life – and visit the special ex¬hibition to see his remarkable accomplishments.

Today, with Katharina Flohr as Creative and Managing Director, and her in-house crea¬tive team, Fabergé is forging a fresh yet strong identity. Paying homage to Peter Carl Fabergé’s genius as a visionary artist-jeweller, and benefit¬ing from the expertise and guidance of Tatiana and Sarah Fabergé, his great-grand-daughters, contemporary Fabergé collections are imbued with poetry, artistry and refined ideals of beauty made possible by unrivalled craftsmanship, in¬novation and ingenuity, all underlined with a strong emotional engagement. Distinguished by Fabergé’s dedication to excellence and pur¬suit of perfection, the jewels are both linked to Fabergé’s world, yet of the moment and relevant today, demonstrating the modernity that Peter Carl Fabergé was always able to bring to his own eclectic cultural and stylistic references.

 

 

 

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