Fabergé (Est. 1842 – 1918 – Russia) The name Fabergé conjures up multiple creations and products. For some, it is a series of collectible watches. For others, it is a line of fragrances and perfumes. For most, however, it is the jewelry and dozens of exquisite, decorated Easter eggs that were given to Russia’s czars, nobility, and others.
The House of Fabergé was founded in 1842 by the family’s patriarch, Gustav Fabergé (1814-1893). The Fabergé family’s origin is French. Their home had been the village of La Bouteille in the Picardy region of North Eastern France. The family was expelled from the region when Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes. As Huguenots in a predominantly Roman Catholic country, they lost their religious freedom and civil liberties.
The Faberges wandered across Europe for two centuries and, in the process, changed the family name from the original Favri to Favry, Fabri, Fabrier and then ultimately Faberge without an accent. By 1800, an artisan named Pierre Favry (later Peter Fabrier), had settled in Pärnu in the Baltic province of Livonia (now Estonia). A Gustav Fabrier was born there in 1814. By 1825, the family’s name had evolved to “Faberge”.
In the 1830s, the Faberges moved to Saint Petersburg, Russia. Gustav’s father Peter had been a goldsmith in Wurtemburg under the patronage of Catherine the Great. Gustav was apprenticed to Andreas Ferdinand Spiegel who specialized in making gold boxes. After his apprenticeship, Gustav joined the firm of Keibel, goldsmiths and jewelers to the Tsars that was celebrated for reworking the Imperial Russian Crown Jewels in 1826.
In 1841 Gustav became a ‘Master Goldsmith’. The following year he opened the first Faberge shop in Bolshaya Morskaya Street in St Petersburg. The same year he married Charlotte Jungstedt daughter of a Danish artist and four years later in 1846 the couple welcomed their first child, Peter Carl Fabergé (1846-1920).
Because of his skills, it was in no small measure that Gustav’s small, basement jewelry shop became known in the city and business prospered. Adding an accent mark to the family name’s final ‘e’ may have been an attempt to give the name a more explicitly French character that would satisfy the Russian nobility’s love for anything French as French was the official language of Russia’s royal court. French was also widely spoken by the country’s aristocracy and Russia’s upper classes associated France with luxury goods.
Gustav’s son, Peter Carl Fabergé (1846-1920) became the force who drove the creativity and technical expertise behind the enamel works that are the House of Fabergé’s enduring marks.
Peter was educated at the Gymnasium of St Anne’s. This was a fashionable establishment for the sons of the affluent middle classes and the lower echelons of nobility and, not so incidentally, an indication of the success of his Gustav’s business.
Gustav Fabergé retired to Dresden, Germany in 1860, and left the firm in the hands of managers outside of the Fabergé family while his son continued his education. The young Peter took a business course at the Dresden Handelsschule. At the age of 18, he embarked on a Grand Tour with tuition he received from respected goldsmiths in Frankfurt, Germany, France and England. He attended a course at Schloss’s Commercial College in Paris and viewed the objects in the galleries of Europe’s leading museums.
Peter had first apprenticed with Gustav’s partner, Peter Hiskins and completed his education studying both manufacturing and design. French designs especially intrigued him.
Peter Carl Fabergé joined his father’s workshops in 1861 and, in 1870, took responsibility for them. He made sure the firm produced jewelry and objects in line with Parisian trends. At the time, this meant creating designs faithful to various historical revivals.
In 1872, at age 26, Peter returned to St Petersburg. For the following ten years, his father’s Workmaster, Hiskias Pendin, acted as his mentor and tutor. In 1881, the company moved to larger street-level premises at 16/18 Bolshaia Morskaia.
Following Pendin’s death in 1882, Peter took over running the firm. The same year, he was awarded the title, ‘Master Goldsmith.’
In the same year, his younger brother by sixteen years, Agathon Fabergé (1876-1951) joined the business. While Agathon’s education was restricted to Dresden, he was noted as a talented designer who provided the business with new ideas.
After Peter’s involvement repairing and restoring objects in the Hermitage Museum, the firm was invited to exhibit at the Pan-Russian Exhibition in Moscow. Peter and Agathon were a sensation at the 1882 Exhibition. Peter was awarded a gold medal and the St. Stanislas Medal.
One of the Fabergé pieces displayed was a replica of a 4th-century BC gold bangle from the Scythian Treasure in the Hermitage. Tsar Alexander III, “Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russians”, declared that he could not distinguish the Fabergé’s work from the original and ordered that objects by the House of Fabergé be displayed in the Hermitage as examples of superb contemporary Russian craftsmanship. The House of Fabergé and its range of jewels had now attained access to Russia’s Imperial Court.
In 1885, the House of Fabergé received the coveted title “Goldsmith by special appointment to the Imperial Crown” and began its association with Russian tsars.
Between 1884 and 1885 Peter hired the talented Mikhail Perkhin as Fabergé’s new head designer. Peter and Agathon still kept a tight rein on production, hiring only the most skilled artists to create work of extraordinarily high standards.
Around this time, Fabergé switched its focus from jewelry to objects of art, creating pieces that would ultimately leave an indelible mark on the history of jewelry. The new specialties were decorative objects like carved animal miniatures, bejeweled, enameled flowers and eggs as well as functional objects like boxes, parasol handles, letter openers, opera glasses, and vases. By the turn of the century, Fabergé was the jeweler of choice for Russian nobility producing works by commission and offering a ready selection of precious objects.
It was during this time that Peter created his first enamel Easter egg commissioned by Tsar Alexander III as a gift for his wife, Empress Maria Fedorovna. This special commission started a tradition of refined and inventive Easter eggs that were sought-after and evolved into ever more sophisticated and elaborate pieces.
The excellence of Fabergé’s work was soon recognized internationally. In 1900, Peter received a Legion of Honor award at Paris’s International Exhibition recognizing his enameled objects. Stores were opened in London and Paris. Until World War I, when the Russian Revolutionary government repatriated its citizens and capital, the firm prospered.
After the 1917 Revolution, the firm’s production effectively stopped. In 1919, the Fabergés fled Russia for Switzerland.
The series of Easter eggs created by Fabergé from 1885-1916 for the Russian Imperial family is regarded as the House’s greatest and most enduring achievement. Fabergé Imperial Easter eggs are, by far, the most celebrated and awe-inspiring of all Fabergé works of art and they are inextricably linked to the Fabergé name and legacy. They are also considered as the last great commissioned series of objets d’art.
The first Fabergé egg was crafted in 1885 for Tsar Alexander III to give to his wife, Empress Maria Fedorovna. An Easter egg, it is thought to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their betrothal. It is also thought that the Tsar’s inspiration for the piece was an egg owned by the Empress’s aunt, Princess Vilhelmine Marie of Denmark that had captivated Maria’s imagination as a child.
Known as the Hen Egg, it was crafted from gold. Its opaque white enameled “shell” opened to reveal its first surprise, a matte yellow-gold yolk. This in turn opened to reveal a multicolored gold hen that also opened. The hen contained a minute diamond replica of the imperial crown from which a small ruby pendant was suspended. These last two elements have been lost.
Empress Maria was so delighted by the gift that Alexander commissioned another egg the next year. After that, Peter Fabergé was apparently given complete freedom for the design of future imperial Easter eggs and their designs became more elaborate. According to the Fabergé family, not even the Tsar knew what form they would take—the only requirements were that each contain a surprise, and that each be unique. Once Fabergé had approved an initial design, the work was carried out by a team of craftsmen, among them Michael Perkhin, Henrik Wigström and Erik August Kollin.
Each egg took a year or more to make and involved a team of highly skilled craftsmen who worked in secrecy. Dreaming up each complex concept, Fabergé often drew on family ties, events in Imperial Court life, or the milestones and achievements of the Romanov dynasty, as in the Fifteenth Anniversary Egg of 1911 that commemorated the 15th anniversary of Nicholas II’s accession to the throne. Another example of this is seen in the Romanov Tercentenary Egg of 1913 that celebrated 300 years of the House of Romanov.
Although the theme of the Easter eggs changed annually, the element of surprise remained a constant link among them. The surprises ranged from a perfect miniature replica of the Coronation carriage – that took 15 months to make despite working 16-hour days – through a mechanical swan and an ivory elephant, to a heart-shaped frame on an easel with 11 miniature portraits of members of the Imperial family.
Each year, Alexander III presented an egg to his wife 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 presentations during 1904 and 1905 because of political unrest and the Russo-Japanese War.
One of the most expensive eggs was the 1913 Winter Egg which cost 24,600 rubles, at the time more than £2,000. Today, the egg would cost about £2.36 million.
The Winter Egg, designed by Alma Pihl, famed for her series of diamond snowflakes, was made of carved rock crystal as thin as glass. This was embellished with engraving, and ornamented with platinum and diamonds, to resemble frost. The egg rested on a rock-crystal base designed as a block of melting ice.
Its surprise was a resplendent platinum basket of exuberant wood anemones. The flowers were made from white quartz, nephrite, gold and demantoid garnets and emerged from moss made of green gold. Its overall height is 14.2cm and was set with 3,246 diamonds. The egg sold at Christie’s in New York in 2002 for $9.6 million.
Of the 50 eggs Fabergé made and delivered to the Imperial family from 1885 through to 1916, 43 have survived.
The Imperial eggs enjoyed great fame, and Fabergé was commissioned to make similar eggs for a few private clients, including the Duchess of Marlborough, the Rothschild family and the Yusupovs. Fabergé was also commissioned to make twelve eggs for the industrialist Alexander Kelch, though only seven appear to have been completed.
Of the 65 known Fabergé eggs, 57 have survived to the present day. Ten of the Imperial Easter eggs are displayed at Moscow’s Kremlin Armory Museum. There are photographs of three of the seven lost eggs: the 1903 Royal Danish egg, the 1909 Alexander III Commemorative egg, and the Nécessaire Egg of 1889. The previously lost Third Imperial Easter Egg of 1887 was found in the USA and bought by Wartski for a private collector.
Most recently, in 2015, Faberge, in its present iteration, revived the tradition of making the Imperial Egg, with the one of the latest made in collaboration with the Al-Fardan family of Qatar. The new Pearl Egg was created with pearls acquired by the Al-Fardan family as part of their pearl business in the Persian Gulf area.
The Pearl Egg’s mother-of-pearl exterior opens to reveal a unique grey pearl of 12.17 carats, sourced from the Persian Gulf. The egg includes 139 white pearls, 3,305 diamonds, carved rock crystal and mother-of-pearl set on white and yellow gold. A mechanism makes the entire outer shell rotate on its base, simultaneously opening in six sections to unveil its treasure. The Pearl Egg is accompanied by a Fabergé necklace of white pearls, diamonds and mother of pearl featuring a scallop motif, and is finished with a 19.44 carat white pearl drop.
Other Fabergé popular creations were miniature hardstone carvings of people, animals and flowers brought to life from semi-precious or hardstones and embellished with precious metals and stones. The most common animal carvings were elephants and pigs but included custom made miniatures of pets owned by the British Royal family and other notables.
The flower sculptures were complete figural tableaus that included small vases in which carved flowers were permanently set: the vase and “water” were done in clear rock crystal (quartz) and the flowers in various hardstones and enamel. Figures were typically only 25–75 mm long or wide, with some larger and rarer figurines reaching 140–200 mm tall.
These were collected, by those who could afford them, worldwide. The British Royal family has over 250 items in its Royal Collection that includes pieces made by Michael Perkhin and Henrik Wigström. Other important Fabergé miniature collectors were Marjorie Merriweather Post, her niece Barbara Hutton, as well as Fabergé competitor Cartier who, in 1910, purchased a pink jade pig and a carnelian (agate) fox with cabochon ruby eyes set in gold.
The House of Fabergé also stocked a full range of jewelry and other ornamental objects. There were enameled gold and silver gilt, as well as wooden photograph frames, gold and silver boxes; desk sets, walking sticks, doorbells and timepieces. Every item was approved by Peter or, in his absence by his eldest son Eugène (1874-1960), before it was placed into stock. Even a slight fault would result in rejection.
The House of Fabergé won international awards and became Russia’s largest jewelry firm employing as many as 500 craftsmen and designers at its peak. In the early 20th century, the headquarters of the House of Fabergé moved to a purpose-built, four-story building in Bolshaia Morskaia. Branches were also opened in Moscow, Odessa, Kiev, and London.
While there was a plethora of unique products, among the more popular works were wristwatches made in different sizes and with a variety of materials.
The main collection of wristwatches for men was named in honor of Peter’s younger brother, Agathon. Watches in this collection were in round cases and dials enameled and guilloched. An example from the Agathon M1107 collection resembles a watch-skeleton that shows how the movement works. A mechanical plate is guilloched by hands. The dial, with hour and minute hands, is covered with silver in a blue color, and a second small dial for the second hand is enameled with gold. This collection also included a woman’s model called the Agathon Medium Lady M1015-101-BL, colored in cold blue tone.
The firm also produced Agathon Chronograph M1115 men’s wristwatches and Agathon Medium Lady M1021 women’s watches with a small second hand.
The watches attracted attention by their use of color. Dials of these models are guilloched and covered with enamel. Men’s models as well as the women’s model are fixed in cases of red gold. Most watches have an automatic movement. Fabergé watches exemplify luxury, originality, high quality, and prices to match.
The Russian Revolution that began in 1917 changed everything: The House of Fabergé was nationalized by the Bolsheviks in 1918.
In October, Peter left Petrograd on the last diplomatic train for Riga, Latvia. When the revolution spread there in the middle of the following month, Peter was forced, again, to flee for his life ending up in Germany; first in Bad Homburg and later in Wiesbaden.
The Bolsheviks imprisoned his sons Agathon and Alexander (1877-1952). Initially, Agathon was released to appraise the valuables seized from the Imperial family, the aristocrats, wealthy merchants, and other jewelers as well as his own house’s inventory.
He was re-imprisoned when the Bolsheviks found it difficult to sell the treasures at Agathon’s valuations. Europe was awash with Russian jewels and prices had fallen.
Madame Fabergé and her eldest son, Eugène avoided capture by escaping under the cover of darkness through the snow-covered woods by sleigh and on foot. Toward the end of December 1918, they crossed the border into the safety of Finland.
Meanwhile, Peter, in Germany, became seriously ill. Eugène reached Wiesbaden in June 1920 and accompanied his father to Switzerland where other members of the family had taken refuge. Peter Fabergé died in Lausanne on 24 September 1920 having never really recovered from the effects of the revolution. His wife died in January 1925.
Although Alexander managed to escape from prison when a friend bribed the guards, Agathon did not succeed in making his escape from the USSR until November 1927 when he, his wife Maria and son Oleg, together with four helpers, escaped by sled across the frozen Gulf of Finland. Agathon and his family spent the rest of their lives in Finland.
In 1924 Alexander and Eugéne opened Fabergé et Cie in Paris, where they had a modest success making the types of items that their father had retailed years before. To distinguish their pieces from those made in Russia before the Revolution, they used the trademark FABERGÉ, PARIS, whereas the Russian company’s trademark was just FABERGÉ.
They also sold jewelry and had a sideline repairing and restoring items that had been made by the original House of Fabergé. Fabergé et Cie continued to operate in Paris until 2001. In 1984, in a lawsuit against Fabergé Inc., Fabergé et Cie lost the right to use the trademark Fabergé for jewelry.
In the 1920’s, American oil billionaire Armand Hammer collected many Fabergé pieces during his business ventures in communist Russia. In 1937, Hammer’s friend Samuel Rubin, owner of the Spanish Trading Corporation which imported soap and olive oil, closed his company because of the Spanish civil war and established a new enterprise to manufacture perfumes and toiletries.
He registered it, at Hammer’s suggestion, as Fabergé Inc. in 1937. In 1943 Rubin registered the Fabergé trademark for perfume in the United States.
When, after World War II, the Fabergé family discovered that their name was being used to sell perfumes without their consent, a lengthy exchange ensued between lawyers on both sides of the Atlantic.
In 1946 Rubin registered the Fabergé trademark for jewelry in the United States. An agreement with the family was reached out of court in 1951 and Rubin agreed to pay Fabergé & Cie $25,000 to use the Fabergé name solely in relation to perfume.
In 1964, Rubin sold Fabergé for $26 million to George Barrie and the cosmetic’s company, Rayette Inc. In the course of the sale, Rayette changed its name to Rayette-Fabergé Inc. and in 1971 changed the name again to Fabergé Inc. From 1964 to 1984, under the direction of George Barrie, many well-known and successful product lines were launched by Fabergé Inc.
These included the introduction of the Brut toiletry line, promoted by football legend Joe Namath. In 1977, Barrie signed Farrah Fawcett to a promotional contract with Fabergé for the Farrah Fawcett hair product and fragrance lines. Brut became the best-selling cologne in the world at the time and is still available today.
Barrie launched the Babe fragrance in 1976, which, in its first year, became Fabergé’s largest selling women’s fragrance worldwide. Actress and model Margaux Hemingway received a $1 million contract to promote Babe by Fabergé making her the first super model.
Babe received two awards from the Fragrance Foundation: Most Successful Introduction of a Women’s Fragrance in Popular Distribution, and Best Advertising Campaign for Women’s Fragrance.
By 1984 the company had expanded its personal care products to Aphrodisia, Aqua Net Hair Spray, Babe, Cavale, Brut, Ceramic Nail glaze, Flambeau, Great Skin, Grande Finale, Just Wonderful, Macho, Kiku, Partage, Tip Top Accessories, Tigress, Woodhue, Xandu, Zizanie de Fragonard, Caryl Richards, Farrah Fawcett and Fabergé Organics.
In 1984, Meshulam Rikli’s privately owned Riklis Family Corporation acquired Fabergé for $670 million and discontinued many Faberge products. The new owner launched a cologne, Mcgregor by Fabergé the same year. New product lines were introduced including men’s, women’s and children’s apparel under trademarks including Billy the Kid, Scoreboard and Wonderknit.
In 1986 Mark Goldston, named President of Fabergé, was responsible for and acquiring the Elizabeth Arden Company from Eli Lilly and Company for $725 million and turned Fabergé into a $1.2 billion firm.
In 1989 Unilever bought Fabergé Inc. from the Riklis Family Corporation for $1.55 billion. The company was renamed Elida Fabergé. The deal tied Unilever in first place with L’Oreal in the cosmetics’ world.
Unilever registered the Fabergé name as a trademark across a wide range of merchandise internationally and granted licenses to third parties to make and sell a range of products ranging from custom jewelry to spectacles under the Fabergé name. However, it also continued to sell perfume and toiletries branded Fabergé.
In 1989, the German jewelry manufacture company Victor Mayer obtained the exclusive licensing rights to produce heirloom quality Fabergé Eggs, jewelry and watches in 18KT gold and platinum with gem stones, vitreous enamel and diamonds.
In collaboration with Fabergé expert Geza von Habsburg, new designs for eggs and jewelry were marketed worldwide with great success and many large Fabergé eggs are now in collections and museums. The first contemporary Fabergé jewelry and egg collection was presented to the alleged heir to the Russian crown, Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich, in Munich, Germany in 1991. The license with the Victor Mayer Company ended in 2009 for jewelry and in 2012 for watches.
In January 2007, Pallinghurst Resources LLP, an investment advisory firm based in London, acquired Unilever’s entire global portfolio of trademarks, licenses and associated rights relating to the Fabergé brand name for an undisclosed sum. The trademarks, licenses and associated rights were transferred to a newly constituted company, Fabergé Limited, which was registered in the Cayman Islands.
In October 2007, the company announced that it intended to restore Fabergé to its rightful position as the leading purveyor of enduring personal possessions. It also announced the reunification of the Fabergé brand with the Fabergé family with Tatiana Fabergé and Sarah Fabergé, both great-granddaughters of Peter Carl Fabergé, becoming founding members of the Fabergé Heritage Council, a division of Fabergé Limited, which was to assist the new company.
The new owners intended to make Fabergé a luxury goods brand and to sell individually branded Fabergé gemstones with guaranteed provenance and ethical sourcing of the stones. The company launched its Haute Couture jewelry collection in 2009.
Over the years as the Russian Revolution evolved into the Soviet Union led by Dictator Joseph Stalin many Fabergé objects were scattered throughout the world. In a bid to acquire more foreign currency, Stalin sold many of the eggs in 1927 after their value had been appraised by Agathon Fabergé.
Between 1930 and 1933, 14 Imperial eggs left Russia. Many of the eggs were sold to Armand Hammer (president of Occidental Petroleum and a personal friend of Lenin) whose father was founder of the United States Communist party and to Emanuel Snowman of the London antique dealer, Wartski.
After the collection in the Kremlin Armory, the largest gathering of Fabergé eggs was assembled by Malcolm Forbes and displayed in New York City. Nine eggs, and approximately 180 other Fabergé objects, were to be put up for auction at Sotheby’s in February 2004 by Forbes’ heirs. However, before the auction began, the collection was purchased in its entirety by the Russian oligarch Victor Vekselberg.
In a 2013 BBC Four documentary, Vekselberg revealed he had spent over $100 Million purchasing the nine Fabergé eggs. Never intended for personal display, he said he bought them because they are important to Russian history and culture, and he believed them to be the best jewelry art in the world.
In the same BBC documentary Vekselberg revealed plans to open a museum to display his collection of eggs at a private museum, the Fabergé Museum, in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
In November 2007, a Fabergé clock, named by Christie’s auction house as the Rothschild egg, sold at auction for £8.9 million. The price achieved by the egg set three auction records: it was the most expensive timepiece, Russian object, and Fabergé object ever sold at auction, surpassing the $9.6 million sale of the 1913 Winter Egg in 2002.
In 1989, as part of the San Diego Arts Festival, 26 Faberge eggs were loaned for display at the San Diego Museum of Art, the largest exhibition of Faberge eggs anywhere since the Russian Revolution. The eggs included eight from the Kremlin, nine from the Forbes collection, three from the New Orleans Museum of Art, two from the Royal Collection, one from the Cleveland Museum of Art, and three from private collections.
Among those who acquired Fabergé objects before and after World War II was Marjorie Merriweather Post who returned home from the Soviet Union with a vast collection of icons, chalices, porcelain, and silver drinking vessels. These treasures encouraged her to expand her collection and share it with the public.
Already a seasoned collector of French decorative arts, Post became a pioneer collector of Russian art while living in the Soviet Union in the 1930s with her third husband, the ambassador to the Soviet Union Joseph E. Davies. The imperial porcelain, silver, enamels, and glass perfectly suited her taste for beautiful and finely crafted objects. Ultimately, she assembled largest collection of Russian imperial art outside of Russia.
Following the end of the Soviet Union and the rise of the oligarchs, Russian collectors sought to repatriate many of Fabergé’s works and auction prices reached record highs.
Many celebrities and billionaires collect Fabergé pieces including the late Joan Rivers, whose family auctioned $2.2 Million worth of Fabergé objects after her untimely death.
Today, Fabergé creates extraordinary jeweled masterpieces for a new generation of devotees. Contemporary Fabergé collections continue to boast the finest craftsmanship, precious materials and innovative designs that capture the artistry of its heritage. Creating tomorrow’s treasures, Fabergé offers High and Fine Jewelry intended to pass from generation to generation as well as special commissions that aspire to turn clients’ dreams into reality.
Faberge pieces can be seen in the Russian Hermitage collections as well as in the Faberge Museum in the German spa town of Baden Baden. The latter’s collection of 700 objects includes two Imperial Eggs and the Rothschild Egg, one of the most expensive pieces the company ever made.
Fabergé eggs have become symbols of the splendor, power and wealth of the Russian Empire and priceless treasures to hunt, steal, and/or acquire. They have been part of the plots in several films and television series such as the James Bond thriller, Octopussy (1983), the Murder She Wrote episode “An Egg to Die For” (1994), The Order (2001), Ocean’s Twelve (2004), The Simpsons episodes “‘Round Springfield” (1995) and “The Last of the Red Hat Mamas” (2005), the Family Guy episode “Stu and Stewie’s Excellent Adventure” (2006), and The Untouchables (2011).
In Danielle Steele’s novel, “Zoya”, a Fabergé egg is a keepsake of the last two remaining members of a noble family.
Undoubtedly, Fabergé eggs will continue as plot devices in future works even as they continue to hold real world collectors and admirers in their thrall.