Fabergé Introduction 1

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Page 1 Introduction Fabergé
Page 2 Introduction Fabergé continued
Page 3 Short Biography of Tsar Nicholas II: Childhood and marriage Nicholas II -
The coronation - The family - The church - The state - Court life - The end

Family Tree

Born Peter Karl Fabergé* on May 30 (18) in 1846, he would become the most famous goldsmith of his time. Son of jeweler Gustav Fabergé, owner of a small silver and jewelry shop in St. Petersburg.

Karl FabergéSt. Petersburg
Peter Karl Fabergé and right the shop in Sint Petersburg

Karl Fabergé was well-trained in the jeweler's art by apprenticeships in the major centers of the European decorative arts. By the time Karl was twenty, he had also received a solid foundation in economics and commercial affairs.

When Karl took over his father's jewelry firm in 1872 at the age of twenty-four, it was not much different from several other workshops catering to the upper classes of St. Petersburg. But the young Fabergé was determined to distinguish the family name. Jewelry and the decorative arts of the day had previously been valued by the size and weight of the precious stones and metals. In a departure from such gaudy ostentation, and with the help of his younger brother Agathon, a talented designer and valued advisor, Fabergé eagerly formulated a new aesthetic, which he hoped would capture the fancy of the Russian aristocracy.

According to Fabergé collector Christopher Forbes, "His feeling was that it should be creativity and craftsmanship rather than carat-content that dictated the appreciation of a piece – and he certainly had a wonderful sense of humor. So his pieces caught the attention of Alexander III, who admired them as examples of Russian genius."

"And here you see the shrewd man, the businessman," says author and Fabergé expert, Géza von Habsburg. "He worked for an institution called the Imperial Cabinet, which was in charge of all the treasures of the Tsars in the Hermitage. And he worked there free-of-charge and repaired things, appraised things, and so on." Having earned the recognition of this prestigious organization by virtue of his expertise in the task of restoring its collections, Fabergé was invited in 1882 to participate in the Moscow Pan-Russian Exhibition, where he earned a gold medal and a good deal of press for his innovative work. It was at this event that Tsar Alexander III and his wife, Maria Feodorovna, became acquainted with the House of Fabergé, captivated by the exquisite display of jewels and objects de luxe.

In 1885, Fabergé's hard work, meticulous standards and shrewd positioning paid off when he was given the highest honor possible for a jeweler: an appointment as "Supplier to the Court of His Imperial Majesty." That same year he received the now famous order from the Tsar to create the first Imperial Easter egg for the Tsarina.

Hen EggHen Egg detail
1885 First Hen Egg

The Eggs Alexander III ordered for Maria Feodorovna. They total ten, but three are missing. To see a list of all Eggs, to the Eggs!

Alexander III
Alexander III

Third Imperial Easter Egg

"Once you were one of the approved suppliers to the Crown, it was a very lucrative source of business," says Fabergé expert Christopher Forbes. "Every time the Tsar went on a visit or received another head of state, there was an exchange of gifts. Also Russia was growing as an industrial power, and Fabergé was catering to this whole class of nouveau riche Russians. The Imperial eggs were his loss leaders to give him the cachet. But the cash was all coming from these newly minted millionaires in Russia."
Author Géza von Habsburg continues: "And when the Tsar and Tsarina traveled, they traveled with suitcases full of Fabergé, which were presented here and there to people in thanks. By 1896, the year of the coronation of Nicholas II, virtually all the major presents came from Fabergé."

But ironically, the man who conceived of and hand-delivered these incredible pieces had little to do with their actual fabrication. According to Christopher Forbes: "Fabergé was the head of the firm. He had the best designers, the best goldsmiths, the best jewelers, the best stonecutters, the best miniaturists all working for him. At the height of the success of the firm he had over five hundred employees, four shops in Russia, one shop in London and a catalogue operation. He provided the taste and the direction, and he was the genius that got all these artists and artisans to work together to produce these incredible fantasies."

These men were organized into autonomous workshops under master craftsmen hand-picked by the Fabergé brothers. "The head workmasters were the key persons in the realm of Fabergé," says author Géza Von Habsburg. "They stood at the apex of the pyramid immediately under Fabergé, and they controlled the entire output of the workshops. The inventions came from Fabergé. These were discussed with the head work masters, then taken to the design studio."

The process of making the Eggs usually took about one year. After the preliminary period of detailed and meticulous planning, sketches and models were prepared. Discussions were held among the goldsmiths, silversmiths, enamellers, jewelers, lapidary workers and stonecutters who would contribute their talents to the finished creation. Then the parts were farmed out to the various Fabergé workshops.

The shop
The shop in Sint Petersburg, ca 1905

* The name on his birth certificate [1] was Peter Karl Fabergé. He used the initials KF in his workmaster mark workmastermark KF for the domestic market and the initials CF Workmaster Mark for the foreign markets. As the Russian language only knows the K for the consonant [ka] on this website the name Karl (and not Peter Carl) Fabergé is used.

In case you want to read more about Fabergé's workmasters and their marks, click here for an article on the Fabergé Research Site.

[1] Ulla Tillander-Godenhielm, Fabergé ja hänen suomalaiset mestarinsa, 2008, 18-19


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Page updated: June 2, 2016