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Peter Karl Fabergé – Jeweler to the Czars

Peter Karl Fabergé – Jeweler to the Czars

Peter Karl Fabergé – Jeweler to the Czars


Master jeweler Peter Karl Fabergé (1846-1920) is the grandson of a French Huguenot who settled in Estonia. He was born in St. Petersburg, where his father is a jeweler.


After his studies, Karl Fabergé leaves for Frankfurt am Main, where he works as an apprentice to the jeweler Friedmann. After his apprenticeship he travels with friends throughout Europe and visits many of the museums in London, Paris, Florence and Dresden. Fabergé is fascinated by the many artistic styles, old or new, he encounters and he later, in his creations, eclectically combines these styles with elements of the East and the West.


In 1870 he returns to St.Petersburg and takes over the jewelry shop of his father. His exceptional craftsmanship, imagination and creativity guide him in the creation of his first jewels that draw the attention of the local nobility.

In 1882 Fabergé wins a Gold Medal at the Pan-Russian exhibition and attracts the eye of Czar Aleksandr  III. Soon he is appointed Purveyor to the Royal Household, a position that opens him the doors to the highest European nobility.


In the mid-1880s, Fabergé presents his idea to create an elaborate Easter egg for the Czarina to Czar Aleksandr  III. Aleksandr  is enthusiastic and commissions the egg. The Czarina absolutely adores it. This is the beginning of a tradition that continues until the October Revolution in 1917: every year, Fabergé creates a new egg for the Imperial household.


As well as an exceptional jeweler, Karl Fabergé is a successful entrepreneur running a multifaceted family business. He employs more than 500 designers, gem-cutters, metalworkers, enamellers, and miniature painters. However, as far as is known, Fabergé never built an egg himself; he was the designer and creative genius with a new conception of labour organization that allowed him to use his creative potential, entrusting the execution to highly capable workmasters. He was an organizational genius, capable of uniting craftsmen from a variety of countries in one team, leading and motivating them. 


So imaginatively conceived and opulently executed, Fabergé's work elevates jewelry to a decorative art unequaled since the Renaissance. The novelty of combining artistic excellence with functional value – and a touch of whimsy – so captures the imagination of the aristocracy that the Fabergé workshops are flooded with commissions, transforming an ordinary goldsmith shop into the famous "House of Fabergé." But though aristocrats, barons of industry, kings and queens alike all cross his threshold seeking gifts, Fabergé's first duty is always to the Czar.


Year by year, Fabergé's Imperial Easter eggs reach new heights of invention and extravagance, expressions in miniature of the life of Imperial privilege. According to author and Fabergé expert, Géza von Habsburg, "They are the absolute summit of craftsmanship. They are unbelievably made. They were the sort of apogee of what Fabergé was able to do, and he lavished everything he could on them.


In the harsh light of historical hindsight, the Fabergé Imperial Easter eggs can be seen as nothing more than the frivolous indulgences of a decadent monarchy. But stripped of revolutionary ideology, they endure simply as fragile mementos of the doomed Russian dynasty, each not only an artistic masterpiece, but a remarkable reflection of the joys and achievements of a family at the crossroads of history.


After the Russian revolution in 1917, Fabergé is forced to close his workshop and flee Russia. Heading first for France, he settles down in Switzerland, where he dies in 1920, in Lausanne, at the age of 74.


Fabergé secured his place in history by using ancient, almost extinct goldsmith techniques and elevating them to a previously unknown level of excellence. He worked with many materials, including a broad range of precious metals and alloys such as yellow, red, white and pale blue gold. Fabergé was especially renowned for his enamel work, and his techniques were strictly guarded company secrets. He often employed so called French enameling – including the Champlevé technique that employs translucent enamel on a Moiré Guilloche background.


Fabergé personally controlled the entire production of his workmasters and it was only authorised with his "Fabergé" stamp if the design met his high demands artistically and technically. In order to protect his name, Fabergé destroyed all objects that in some way fell short of his quality standards.


This is what H.C. Bainbridge, associate in the London Fabergé shop and close friend and “ambassador” in Europe of Karl Fabergé had to say about him.


“How many royal "appointments" Fabergé had, I never inquired. Doubtless all of them. Primarily, of course, he was Court Jeweler to the Czars Aleksandr III and Nikolai II.


He was a genius on the rampage, always in search of something on which to vent his creative skill, and on this quest his clients helped him. Now you cannot give a pearl necklace to a Queen, or a diamond to a Rothschild, or a ruby to a Greville; they have them all. This was what set Fabergé on his quest and it was just this which made him supreme. It was all those beautiful articles of fantaisie, those bibelots for the table, which made his fame. He became the first in Russia to make objects of elegance, taste and feeling; his work the wide world over became known as a style of its own, "Fabergé".


But not only as a master of style does he deserve a niche in the pillar of fame. Two arts: enameling on gold and silver, and stone- cutting both experienced a renaissance and pitch of excellence that was very largely due to him. His cigarette-cases, enameled on gold and silver, are incomparable. His flowers, cut in precious and semi-precious stones, almost transcend nature in their delicate tracery and beauty of form; and his animals catch every trick and turn and are cut with boldness and a verve which make them seem almost alive.


With a catalogue of successes behind him, it was at the "Exposition Universelle" in Paris in 1900, that he was acclaimed Master by the Goldsmiths of France in the capital of the country from which, 215 years before, his persecuted ancestors had fled.


Here the Empresses AleksandraFyodorovna and Maria Fyodorovna lent their wonderful collection of Easter eggs for exhibition. These are perhaps the finest pieces which Fabergé ever made; upon them he lavished every artifice of design, workmanship and mechanism. I say mechanism, because inside some of them were mechanical devices which would puzzle the skill of a most expert watchmaker to contrive. Fabergé made forty-nine of them in all.


Easter was, as you know, a great time in Russia in Czarist days. Everybody kissed everybody else, and said: "Christ is risen"; receiving in reply the words: "Verily He is risen"; and everybody gave everybody else a present. Easter eggs took first place as the age-old symbol of "Resurrection", "New Life" and "hopefulness". Everything was adapted to the shape of them. How the first Imperial Easter egg came to be is a romance in itself.


Fabergé was an artist in more ways than one, and his unique gift was a subtle genius for creating just the right situation which evoked in his patrons the desire to possess something which, for the moment, had only taken shape in his mind. When he proposed to the Emperor Aleksandr III (the year 1885 is the nearest I can come to a date) that for the next Easter gift for the Empress he should make an egg with some surprise inside it, the Czar was all agog to know what it was to be.


To keep an Emperor on tenterhooks may quite easily prove a dangerous proceeding, but Fabergé kept his secret; and, loving a joke, he produced what was, to all appearance, an ordinary hen's egg, containing a series of "surprises" wrought in gold and platinum, precious gems and enamel.


The Czar was so pleased that he gave Fabergé a standing order for an egg every Easter-tide, and a bargain was struck between Emperor and Craftsman. The latter was given carte blanche to make whatever took his fancy, and the former asked no questions; the kernel of the agreement being that each egg must have some surprise inside.


During the lifetime of Aleksandr III only one egg was made each year, and this the Czar gave to the Czarina Maria Fyodorovna. But from the time of the accession of Nikolai II, two were made each year; one to be given to the Czarina AleksandraFyodorovna and the other to his mother, the Dowager Empress. The yearly Easter egg became the great surprise for the Imperial Family.


Today, as the outcome of the original joke, there are in existence forty-nine Imperial eggs which for ingenuity, craftsmanship and beauty of design, it is no exaggeration to say, surpass anything of a like nature which has yet come from a goldsmith's workshop.


Of all the works of Fabergé, the Imperial Easter eggs are creating the greatest interest today. For all time they are a monument to his master mind and skill.”



The Fabergé Family History


1685 - the Fabergé family flee the Huguenot persecution after the Edict of Nantes, leaving Catholic France for Germany.

1800 - Peter Fabergé immigrates to the Baltic province of Livonia and becomes a Russian citizen.

1814 - Gustav Fabergé, son of Peter Fabergé and father of the famous Karl Fabergé, is born.

1830's - Gustav Fabergé moves to St. Petersburg and is taught by Andreas Ferdinand Spiegel the goldsmith art.

1842 - Gustav Fabergé opens a jewelry shop at Bolschaya Morskaya Street in St. Petersburg.

1846 - Peter Karl Fabergé is born in St. Petersburg.

1860 - Gustav Fabergé retires to Dresden, Germany and Karl Fabergé becomes an apprentice to the jeweler Friedmann in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. The Fabergé business in Russia continues to grow under the auspices of Peter Hiskias Pendin, Gustav Fabergé's partner.

1861-1865 - Karl Fabergé trains to goldsmith in a four year apprenticeship in Europe.

1862 - Karl Fabergé's brother, Agathon, is born.

1865 - Karl Fabergé returns to St. Petersburg and enters his father's firm.

1872 - Karl Fabergé marries Augusta Julia Jakobs and takes over his father's business.

1874 - Karl's first son, Evgeny Fabergé, is born. Fabergé is mentioned in the lists of the Imperial Cabinet for the first time.

1876 - Agathon, Karl Fabergé's second son, is born.

1877 - 1877 - Aleksandr , Karl Fabergé's third son, is born.

1882 - The House of Fabergé wins a gold medal at the Pan-Russian Exhibition in Moscow and is "discovered" by Aleksandr III and Maria.

Agathon, Karl Fabergé's younger brother, joins the Fabergé firm.

1884 - Mikhail Perkhin joins the Fabergé firm and later becomes head workmaster.

1885 - Karl Fabergé is named "Supplier to the Court of His Imperial Majesty," and Czar Aleksandr III orders the first Imperial Easter egg for his wife Maria. The Fabergé company is awarded a gold medal at the Nuremberg Exhibition for its superb reproductions of the gold Scythian treasures which had only recently been unearthed in Russia.

1886 - Karl Fabergé opens a Moscow branch of the House of Fabergé.

1890The St. Petersburg branch of the House of Fabergé doubles in size; another branch is opened in Odessa.

1894 - Karl Fabergé's son, Eugene, joins the firm.

1896 - The House of Fabergé receives the State Emblem at the Pan-Russian Exhibition in Nijny-Novgorod.

1897 -At the Nordic Exhibition in Stockholm, Sweden, Karl Fabergé is appointed "Goldsmith to the Court of the King of Sweden and Norway".

1898 - Karl Fabergé begins renovating the premises at 24 Bolshaya Morskaya Street, which opens for the first time in 1900.

1900 - Fabergé publicly displays some of the Imperial Easter eggs and other miniatures for  the first time at the Paris Exposition Universelle. He is awarded a Gold Medal and the cross of the Legion d'Honneur.

1901 – The Odessa branch of the House of Fabergé is opened.

1903 - A branch of the House of Fabergé is opened in London.

1904 - Karl Fabergé's fame has spread to Southeast Asia and he is personally invited to the court of King Maha Chulalongkorn of Siam.

1905 -The Kiev branch of the House of Fabergé is opened.

1910 - The Kiev branch is closed down.

1914 -The Fabergé firm is ordered to begin production of small arms for the front and dressing material for the wounded. Most items are made of copper or gunmetal in order to preserve precious metals and are only stamped with the Russian Imperial Eagle and "1914 War".

1915 - The Fabergé workshops begin to produce war supplies. The London branch is closed.

1916 - The House of Fabergé is converted to a joint stock company.

1918The House of Fabergé is closed by the Bolsheviks. Karl Fabergé and his family, with the exception of Agathon, escape from Russia with the help of the British Embassy.

1920 - September: Karl Fabergé dies in Lausanne, Switzerland.

1921 - Agathon is released from prison to work on the Crown jewels under Soviet orders.

1928 - Agathon escapes from Russia.


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Date:  12th Apr 09

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