Cover image by Raita Futo via flickr

Peter Carl Fabergé, Russian goldsmith and jeweller of French descent and maker of the world-renowned Fabergé eggs, was born in St. Petersburg, the capital of the Tsardom of Russia, on 30 May 1846. He was the last jeweller to work for the Russian imperial family and court living in boundless luxury.
Fabergé’s creations have become
world-famous for their luxury craftsmanship. His magnificent jewelled eggs are very rare nowadays. The surviving pieces are owned by wealthy art collectors, and the eggs re-emerged were sold for millions of dollars at auctions. One of the last Fabergé eggs that had been lost and then re-emerged (‘Rothschild egg’) was sold by Christie’s auction house a couple of years ago, for £8.9 million.

Imperial Easter egg “Kurochka” of the Faberge Museum in St. Petersburg | Image by Mikhail Ovchinnikov

Fabergé’s paternal ancestors were Huguenots who fled from France to Prussia, after the abolition of the free practice of religion, in the late 17th century. Over time, the Germanised family moved to a Baltic province. His father was a famous jeweller and opened a jewellery shop in St. Petersburg in 1842. Carl Fabergé followed in his father’s footsteps and learned the art of goldsmithing — his tutors were Europe’s best master goldsmiths. In 1882, he was awarded the title of Master Goldsmith and took over the family business. He soon changed the nature of the business, along with the formula of design and craftsmanship, preferring the elements of the Baroque decorative art, and began designing and creating ornamental objects instead of traditional jewellery. Besides running the company, he, along with his brother, was restoring and cataloguing masterpieces of goldsmith’s art in the Hermitage.

The Kelch Rocaille Egg (1902) | Image by Hank Gillette

The year of 1882 brought serious changes to his life, when Fabergé jewellery pieces attracted the attention of Tsar Alexander III at the Pan-Russian Exhibition. The Tsar was completely impressed by the accuracy of one of Fabergé’s creations (a replica of a 4th-century B.C. gold bangle was said to be so accurate that the Emperor could not distinguish it from the original). After bestowing with the title of official goldsmith to the Russian Imperial Court in 1885, the Tsar commissioned him to make the so-called Fabergé eggs. All expenses of the House of Fabergé were being borne by court.

Tsar Alexander III commissioned Fabergé to craft the first piece of the fabled Fabergé eggs as a gift for his wife for Orthodox Easter. The egg is made of solid gold coated with white enamel to look like a real egg. There is a miniature hen inside the egg, which also opened up to reveal the miniature replica of the imperial crown. Fabergé thus created an incredibly special and unique objet d’art. The Tsarina was so impressed by the masterpiece that the Tsar commissioned the company to make a new Easter egg for her every year thereafter. Gifting jewelled eggs became a tradition of the imperial family, and the Tsar’s family celebrated every Easter with a Fabergé egg from then on. Tsar Nicholas II, the son of Tsar Alexander III, resumed the tradition and had one Fabergé egg delivered every Easter, adding new pieces — of course, not just an Easter egg — to the imperial collection of Fabergé eggs every year. Between 1885 and 1917, the artist-jeweller crafted more than 50 eggs for the imperial family. Fabergé made an egg commemorating the centenary of the Battle of Borodino of 1812 against Napoleon and the Steel Military Egg during the First World War. One of his most famous works is the Winter Egg made of transparent rock crystal, decorated with three thousand diamonds. Inside the egg, there is a small, platinum-woven flower basket studded with more than 1,300 diamonds, which is full of alpine anemones carved from white quartz with gold wire stem and stamens. Some of the eggs have, or had, an automaton. For example, a small cockerel studded with diamonds is in one of the mechanical eggs festooned in pink enamel and gold, which pops up and flaps its wings every hour, then shakes its head and opens its beak to sing. Another egg contains a watch by Vacheron Constantin on a gold pedestal decorated with precious stones.

Image by Jo Zimny Photos via flickr

Image by Jo Zimny Photos via flickr

Fabergé’s fame spread throughout the world. He received orders from the Far East, the United States of America and many European countries. What is more, Fabergé’s masterworks won a gold medal at the World’s Fair in Paris. The design and creation of some elaborated pieces took him a whole year to complete, and he expected the same accuracy and dedication from his assistants. Fabergé was said to be so concerned with perfection that he smashed the creations that were not to his liking, that is, did not meet the quality requirements expected by him, into pieces with a hammer.

Over the years, the form of the eggs became increasingly complex, ornate and varied, using diamonds, silver, rubies, emeralds and other precious metals and stones to craft them. The House of Fabergé made a full range of jewellery and other ornamental objects. Branches were set up in Moscow, Odessa, Kiev and London. As many as hundreds diverse craftsmen were employed by the famous jeweller. The House of Fabergé was supplier not only to the Russian Imperial Court but also to the Swedish Royal Court. One of his masterworks represented Russia at the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris. He also created small, two-centimetre egg pendants, which were celebrated and passionately collected by the ladies of Russian high society. Jewellery made by the House of Fabergé, by today’s standards, are overly ornate, but their perfect craftsmanship and fineness are to be admired.  The themes of the eggs are also widely varied. Some of the Fabergé eggs were designed to commemorate important events, such as the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II after the death of Alexander III (1897), the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway (1900), the centenary of the Battle of Borodino against Napoleon (1912), and the Steel Military Egg made after the outbreak of the First World War (1915) is also a unique piece. 

Duchess of Marlborough, the Swedish and Norwegian royal families, and the Rothschild banking dynasty were among his clients.

He created more than 70 jewelled eggs for them as well, of which 62 have survived. Fabergé’s work represented Russia at the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris, and he received the most prestigious French award, the Legion of Honour in the same year.

Fabergé Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia | Image by Ninara via flickr

Fabergé Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia | Image by Ninara via flickr

Fabergé Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia | Image by Ninara via flickr

In 1916, the House of Fabergé became a joint-stock company with a capital of 3 million roubles. The last Fabergé egg was designed the following year. The egg, made in steel and gold for a sombre wartime tone, commemorates the Tsar going to the front; inside the egg, there is a miniature painting depicting the event.

The success of the jewellery firm came to an abrupt end with the outburst of the October Revolution in 1917. The family business was nationalised by the Bolsheviks, all production closed down, and Fabergé and his family were forced to flee St. Petersburg. They first went to Riga, Latvia, but the revolution reached Latvia in mid-November, they thus left Riga for Germany. The artist-jeweller, who had already had a life-threatening heart condition, settled with his family on the shores of Lake Geneva, Switzerland, enjoying a pleasant climate, in 1920.

The creator of the famed Fabergé eggs died in Lausanne on 24 September 1920, away from his home, in exile. His family believed that he died of a broken heart, as he never recovered from the events of the revolution. His ashes lie in Cannes. The Fabergé Museum was opened in the German city of Baden-Baden in 2009, and another museum dedicated to his works was opened in his home city, St. Petersburg three years ago.

Most of the imperial eggs were sold by the Bolsheviks to acquire more currency. The eggs worth over millions of dollars and other Fabergé creations are today scattered throughout the world. Unfortunately, the collection could not be made complete again; today, only 57 are believed to exist from the 65 known Fabergé eggs. The Kunst Historisches Museum in Vienna presented the most recent Fabergé exhibition on display, showcasing 160 pieces on loan from the Kremlin Museum and the Fersman Mineralogical Museum in Moscow.

The brand had become devalued in the decades to come, as it was being displayed on products unworthy of the name of Fabergé, which had nothing to do with exclusivity and excellence. The Pallinghurst Group acquired the brand name in 2007 and began selling Fabergé-branded jewellery again after a hiatus of nearly a hundred years. Tatiana and Sarah Fabergé, descendants of the Fabergé family, were also appointed members of the Board of Directors of the company. Tatiana Fabergé passed away at age 90 in February this year; her father was Peter Carl Fabergé’s third son and her mother a Princess from Georgia.

Sarah Fabergé, Fabergé’s great-granddaughter, is a founding member of the Fabergé Heritage Council and also Fabergé’s Director of Special Projects. She is still working closely with the Fabergé team and, as an ambassador for the company, represents the Fabergé brand at a variety of events.