Fabergé: Jeweler to the European Royals

Published: 22. 12. 2021
Author: Silvia Mária Petrovitsová
Photo: Photo Wikimedia, Liechtensteinische Landesmuseum (Schatzkammer), Viktor Vekselberg (Fabergé Museum),
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This year marks the 175th anniversary of the birth of the renowned jeweler with French and German ancestry. Peter Karl Gustavovich Fabergé (born 1846, died 1920), crafted more than fifty luxurious “kinder eggs” for the richest people of his time.

Do you know what they are? We are, of course, talking about the famous Fabergé eggs. Even at the time of their creation, their artistic value was immense. Nowadays, they come with the most exorbitant price tags.

Bringing a replica to the Tsar's court

Fabergé spent his younger years in St. Petersburg before his family decided to return to Germany for some time. He graduated from the Arts and Crafts School in Dresden and later his studies took him around Europe. He learned old and new methods alike in working with precious metals and gems. The House of Fabergé family business was entrusted to a business partner during their absence. After his return to St. Petersburg in 1872, Fabergé took up work in the family jewelry business. He was commissioned to restore some exhibits of the State Hermitage Museum, part of it being the creation of a modern-day replica of a golden Scythian armband from the 4th century b.c. After seeing the high quality of his work, the Tsar, Alexander III, ordered the museum to display this replica as the epitome of contemporary Russian jewelry art. In 1885, he was granted the prestigious title of Jeweler to the Tsar and commissioned to craft a unique Easter present for the Tsarina, Maria Feodorovna.

“Kinder egg” for the Tsarina

The Tsar wanted to present his wife with a unique gift for the Easter celebration. Fabergé created a resplendent egg for him. He combined the symbol of the festivities with luxury. Nothing special at first glance. White on the outside, but made out of pure gold on the inside with a little surprise – a miniature golden hen. And inside of it was a miniature replica of the Tsar's crown. Since that moment, Fabergé was never short of new commissions. The eggs were made from precious metals and always displayed his elaborate craftsmanship. He adorned them with pearls, diamonds, mother-of-pearl, and all sorts of enamel. Each egg would open, and one would find a luxurious surprise inside. The satisfied Tsar, Alexander III, ordered an egg for his wife every year. The last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, continued this tradition. He took it up a notch and commissioned two eggs every year, one for his mother, and one for his wife. All in all, 50 Tsar eggs came out of the Fabergé workshop, 43 of which have been preserved in private collections to this day.

Jeweler to the royal houses

Fabergé gained renown thanks to the high-quality craftsmanship of his products. He became jeweler to the Scandinavian court and supplier of jewels to a number of European royal houses. Even the court of Siam. His work was on display at the Exposition Universelle in Paris (1890 and 1900) as well as in Stockholm (1897). During one of these exhibitions, he met a young cabaret singer from Czechia, Johana Amálie Krieblová. He had an affair with her that lasted several years. He did not get a divorce, but he would travel around Europe for three months in a year with his lover. She later got married to a 75-year-old Georgian prince. She left him the day after the wedding, running away to Germany. Later, as a full-fledged Georgian princess, she went to Russia. Here, she got Fabergé into trouble, due to alleged espionage.

Eggs for tractors

The clientele soon grew to encompass the elites of the Russian Empire and even expanded beyond the country's borders. Despite the eggs being his most famous creations, there is plenty of other work of Fabergé's worth mentioning – his jewelry, clocks, utility products, and elaborate miniatures of people, animals, and flowers that he carved into precious stones. Besides jewelry, Fabergé's company also crafted ornate gift boxes to supply it in. His business became the largest Russian jewelry house with roughly 700 highly qualified jewelers. In the early twentieth century, he opened branches in Moscow, Odesa, Kyiv, and London. They would visit and present their products in the Middle East every year. During a lull in demand for jewelry during WW1, Fabergé repurposed his production lines for military products. After the Russian Royal Family was overthrown, he went into exile. Some pieces of his handiwork were taken from Russia by collectors, others were later traded by Stalin for tractors.

Following the Fabergé tradition to this day

Fabergé took the destruction of his life's work and the loss of his fortune very hard. He first sought refuge with his family in Finland, later in Wiesbaden, and ultimately he died in Lausanne. After his death, his sons Eugène and Alexander started a jewelry firm of their own. Since the 1940s, the famous jeweler's name is also connected to a perfume and cosmetics company that also produces alcohol. After a long hiatus, the tradition was picked up by the only craftsman authorized by the Fabergé company, jeweler Victor Mayer from Pforzheim. And so, Fabergé's name is tied to luxurious jewels to this very day.

Rich Russian refugees brought many jewels to Liechtenstein. Among them, one named Apple Blossom.

For Easter 1898, Tsar Nicholas II gifted his wife the Lillies of the Valley egg with likenesses of their daughters.

The most expensive eggs in the world

Only 43 specimens of Fabergé's Tsar eggs have been preserved. They are valuable collector items. The price of one piece even without the miniature surprise inside can be just shy of one million pounds. The most expensive piece is the Imperial Coronation egg from 1897. Another previously unknown egg has surfaced, one adorned with clocks and a kinetic rooster. This pink, transparent egg was created in 1902 for the Rothschilds of London. This find is now on the November offer at the Christie's auction house. The eggs can be found in celebrity collections or the estates of royal houses. Ten, the most owned by one entity, belong to the Kremlin Armory Museum. Three are owned by the British royal family, and three more are in the Pratt collection at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Mathilda Geddings collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. More can be seen at the privately-owned Fabergé Museum in St. Petersburg, in the collection of Viktor Vekselberg. The largest collection outside of Russia, put together by the Liechtenstein collector, Adulf Peter Goop, is stored in the Treasure Chamber of Liechtenstein.

The Fabergé family firm building in St. Petersburg.


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