On 15 December, an exhibition dedicated to the history of the House of Fabergé opened in Istra (Russia) at the New Jerusalem Monastery Museum. Although Russia has already offered many events about the master of enamel, this time it is mainly a historical retrospective whose aim is to clarify, for visitors and enthusiasts of this house, the exact functioning from its creation in 1842 until its closure in 1918. A rich and eventful history to be discovered until 24 March 2019.
Tiara of the Empress. Gold, diamonds. The House of Fabergé, Perkhin workshop, St. Petersburg, 1880. Fabergé Museum, Baden-Baden. Photo: New Jerusalem Museum
“… When I compare companies like Tiffany, Boucheron or Cartier to mine, it appears that they have more jewellery pieces than I can produce… Also, they can produce a necklace that will sell for 1.5 million rubles… But they are traders, not jewellery designers. I am not interested in a piece if its value depends only on the number of diamonds or pearls on it…”
Set of hares. The House of Fabergé. Russia, Moscow, 1894. Fabergé Museum, Baden-Baden. Photo: New Jerusalem Museum
1- 80 years of a little-known history
For many people, the history of the House of Fabergé is limited to the famous eggs produced by the workshop for the Russian imperial family. But in reality, the story begins in the middle of the 19th century with Gustav Fabergé, who set up his jewellery workshop in St Petersburg in 1842. Located in Bolshaya Morskaya street, it quickly became successful for two main reasons: the workshop was located in one of the most luxurious areas of the city and G. Fabergé’s products were perfectly in line with fashion, thus adapting to the sophisticated tastes of Russian aristocratic society.
Brooch. The Fabergé house, Guryanov workshop. Russia, Saint Petersburg, 1899-1904. Gold, garnets. Fabergé Museum, Baden-Baden. Photo: New Jerusalem Museum
In 1864, Peter-Carl Fabergé joined his father’s company and became its director in 1872. It was with him that the workshop underwent a very important development. From 1882 onwards, awards rained down on the workshop, which first became “Supplier to the Tsar”, then “Expert to His Imperial Majesty” and “Jeweler to the Court of the King of Sweden and Norway”. In 1911, he finally became “Jeweller to the Imperial Court of Russia”. in 1887, he opened a workshop in Moscow, followed by a series of openings in Odessa (1900), London (1903) and Kiev (1905). In 1900, he was made a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur by the French government.
Imperial Easter egg “Constellation of the Tsarevich”. The Fabergé House, Vigstrem workshop. Russia, Petrograd, 1917. Marks: H.W. Gold, diamonds, rhinestones, glass, jade. Fabergé Museum, Baden-Baden. Photo: New Jerusalem Museum
This family history ended in 1918 with the Russian Revolution and the political assassination of the imperial family by the Bolsheviks. Throughout its existence, the workshop has seen many members of the Fabergé family, including the lesser-known Agathon Fabergé, Eugène Fabergé (St. Petersburg), Agathon Carl Theodor Fabergé (St. Petersburg), Alexander Julius Fabergé (Moscow) and Nicholas Fabergé (London).
A cigarette case. Ruckert workshop, Russia, Moscow. 1899-1908. Silver, cloisonné enamel. Fabergé Museum, Baden-Baden. Photo: New Jerusalem Museum
Carl Fabergé realised that neither he nor his sons had a future in Russia. In 1918, the jeweller went abroad with his family and died in 1920 in Switzerland. Nicolas Fabergé lived and worked in the London branch of the House of Fabergé. His sons – Eugene and Alexander emigrated to Paris in 1923 where they founded “Fabergé & Cie”. Agathon was the last of Carl Fabergé’s sons to flee from the Soviet Union to Finland in December 1927. He had been working as a commissioner at the Gokhran(State Depository of Precious Metals of the People’s Commissariat for Finance) and an appraiser since 1922. He lived from the sale of part of his rich stamp collection.
Kovsh with an imperial eagle. Lyubavin’s workshop. Russia, St. Petersburg, Russia, 1899 – 1904. Silver, gilding, cloisonné enamel. Fabergé Museum, Baden-Baden. Photo: New Jerusalem Museum
2- Workshop leaders who made the company famous
The company’s archives give us a good idea of the various workshop heads who have enamelled the history of the company. Let’s take a look at how the two main branches in St. Petersburg and Moscow functioned.
The workshop and the main shop and office were located in Carl Fabergé’s house, built in 1900 on Bolshaya Morskaya Street. At that time, the company produced more than 1,000 different items each year and employed about 500 goldsmiths, jewellers, enamel painters and stone carvers.
A vodka set of twenty-five items: two pitchers, twelve silver bases, ten crystal cups and a tray. The House of Fabergé. Russia, Moscow, 1895. Silver, gilding, crystal. Fabergé Museum, Baden-Baden. Photo: New Jerusalem Museum
The most beautiful gold objects designed by Fabergé were created in the workshop of Michael Perkhin and later at Henrik Wigström. The exceptional diamond objects were produced in the workshops of August Holmström and August Hollming. Julius Rappoport’s workshop was the first to specialise in silverware.
The Moscow branch of the Fabergé company (factory and shop) operated from 1887 to 1918. The Moscow factory was mainly known for its production of silverware, especially tableware. Some of the designers of the Moscow branch are worth mentioning, such as Ivanov, Clodt I, Clodt II, Balashev, Borisov, Lieberg, Abradushkin, Andrianov and one of the main master craftsmen Alexander Julius Fabergé, the youngest son of Peter Carl Fabergé, who became the head of the house. There were also sculptors, such as Sokolov, Shishkina and Cheshuin, Kulesha and the engraver Konstantinov. Sazikov and Chepurnov managed the factory.
Cabinet of His Imperial Majesty. The Kehli House. Russia, Saint Petersburg, until 1898. Gold, diamonds, enamel on guilloche background. Fabergé Museum, Baden-Baden. Photo: New Jerusalem Museum
3- Recognising a piece signed Fabergé
Having already admired some remarkable Fabergé forgeries, including a perfectly convincing little egg, I won’t pretend to answer this question entirely. Neither does the New Jerusalem exhibition. That said, it does provide some interesting food for thought about the objects produced by this famous house. For example, you can see that :
- The original cases bearing the inscription “Kiev” belong to pieces made between 1905 and 1910.
- A Fabergé piece can possibly be considered authentic if it bears the hallmark dating from 1908-1927 and has a case inscribed “Moscow – St Petersburg” under the imperial coat of arms.
- A Fabergé piece can possibly be considered authentic if it has the hallmarks of the years 1873-1927 and has a case stamped “G. Fabergé”.
- A Fabergé piece may be considered authentic if it has a hallmark from before 1899 and has a case with one of the following words on it: Odessa, London, Kiev or Petrograd (Saint Petersburg).
Butterfly brooch. 1895-1896. Russia, The Fabergé House. Fabergé Museum, Baden-Baden. Photo: New Jerusalem Museum
The exhibition offers visitors some 400 objects from the collections of the Fabergé Museum in Baden-Baden (Germany), the Hermitage Museum, the Peterhof State Museum Reserve, the Museum of Historical History, the Museum of Russian Decorative, Applied and Folk Art and the Russian National Museum. Of course, you will also find objects from private collections.
The aim of this event is not necessarily to present the most expensive or spectacular objects, but to cover the full range of the company’s production. However, you will be able to admire the “Imperial Easter egg” made from Karelian birch (1917). This is the last piece made and presented to the royal family by Fabergé. In addition, the “Constellation” Easter egg of Tsarevich Alexei, intended for presentation to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna at Easter 1917, can be admired. But also the “Butterfly” brooch (1896), presented by Emperor Nicholas II to the actress Maria Ermolova.
Imperial Easter egg with holder and winding key in the original case with the imperial coat of arms. The House of Fabergé, Vigstrem workshop. Russia, Petrograd, 1917. Karelian birch, gold, sapphire (key of a surprise: gold, silver, diamonds, enamel, steel). Fabergé Museum, Baden-Baden. Photo: New Jerusalem Museum
Also, if you plan to visit Russia before the end of March 2019, don’t miss this exhibition located 60km from Moscow. This beautiful event is a must-see!
See you soon!