Seven things you might not know about Fabergé

Produced as part of Fabergé in London: Romance to Revolution

On now until Sunday, 8 May 2022

More about this Exhibition

So much is known about the world of Fabergé that it's hard to imagine there is anything left untold. However, beyond the fame of the legendary Imperial Easter Eggs and connection with the Russian Tsars, there's a wealth of lesser-known facts about the world's most famous goldsmith.

Carl Fabergé didn't start the business

Black and white photograph of Gustav Fabergé
Gustav Fabergé, photograph, 1860s

It was established by his father, Gustav, in St Petersburg in 1842.

Carl Fabergé joined the family business in 1864, aged 18, having done a Grand Tour of Europe during which he studied the art of the goldsmith in the collections of museums, libraries and individuals. He also undertook training in goldsmithing in St. Petersburg and a pivotal apprenticeship in Frankfurt with master goldsmith, Josef Friedman.

In 1872, when his father retired, Carl Fabergé took full control of the business and his genius and restless imagination propelled it to become the world's foremost goldsmith.

Carl Fabergé didn't make anything

Black and white photograph of Carl Fabergé sat at a desk sorting gemstones
Peter Carl Fabergé sorting gemstones, photograph, about 1905. Courtesy of Wartski, London

Although he was an accomplished and highly-trained goldsmith, Carl Fabergé did not make the pieces himself. Production was entrusted to specialised workshops, each with their own area of expertise, operating under the guidance of a chief workmaster.

Fabergé greatly valued and respected the highly talented pool of artists, designers and craftspeople that he worked with and took the decision to establish a new headquarters that could house the previously dispersed core workshops under one roof.

In 1901, premises at 24 Bolshaya Morskaya in St Petersburg were opened. The ground floor provided a large and sumptuous showroom for displaying the latest designs, and an office for Fabergé. The floors above provided offices for the artists and designers, as well as an encyclopedic reference library containing books on goldsmithing, cutting, and polishing gems. Four workshops were housed in a five-storey courtyard building on-site, enabling efficient communication between the various functions of the business. At least a dozen or more other workshops were situated nearby.

Fabergé made much more than eggs

(Left to Right:) Cigarette case, made by August Hollming for Faberge, 1899 – 1908, St Petersburg, Russia; Carving, by Fabergé, late 19th to early 20th century, St Petersburg, Russia; Buckle, made by Mikhail Perkhin for Fabergé, 1898 – 1903, St Petersburg, Russia

Fabergé delivered only 50 of his legendary Imperial Easter Eggs. The eggs were a prestigious commission, but only a small part of the firm's activities. He made thousands of other pieces for a broad clientele. His showroom in St Petersburg was a destination for Russia's elite and his painstakingly intricate, innovative and luxurious pieces were perfect for gifting.

Taking inspiration from a vast range of sources, as well as specific commissions, Fabergé made everything from carved hardstone figures of animals to cigar cutters, and tiaras to letter openers.

Fabergé was not just Russian

Photograph of the brown coloured frontage of the London Fabergé premises.
Fabergé's premises at 173 New Bond Street in 1911. Image Courtesy of The Fersman Mineralogical Museum, Moscow and Wartski, London

The appeal of Fabergé's work extended beyond Russia's border. They seduced a worldwide audience, which was served by an office that opened in London in 1903. By 1911, Fabergé had moved to new premises in London's prestigious New Bond Street – an Edwardian high society shopping hotspot in close proximity to the newly opened Ritz Hotel and many of London's finest houses.

The coming of Fabergé flashed like a comet through the black firmament of over-seriousness everywhere and with such unmistakable brilliance.

Henry Bainbridge, Fabergé's London agent

From 1908, commercial trips to China and Siam (now Thailand) were underway. Opening up these trade routes with Europe and Asia exposed Fabergé to inspiration from other cultures and resulted in designs taking on new stylistic directions.

The outbreak of World War One saw the gradual decline of business in the London branch and in early 1917, the doors were closed for good.

Fabergé made munitions

After the outbreak of World War One, Fabergé's workshops were conscripted to producing munitions. His artisans' ability to work metals to fine tolerances was perfect for the production of explosive devices.

During the war years, the workshops also turned their hands to making more modest, utilitarian objects such as cooking pots, bowls and beakers, often using simpler, more affordable materials.

Carl Fabergé died a refugee

As a friend of the Emperor and successful business owner, Carl was forced to flee his homeland after the Russian revolution. He travelled via Riga, the Latvian capital on the Baltic Sea, to Germany and then onto Switzerland, where he died, broken-hearted at the disintegration of his life's work, in 1920.

Seven Imperial Easter Eggs are missing

Black and white photograph of the missing Nécessaire egg by Fabergé, shown in a white presentation box
Nécessaire Egg in presentation box, photograph. Courtesy of Wartski, London

The seven missing eggs are:
1886 Hen Egg with Sapphire Pendant
1888 Cherub with Chariot Egg
1889 Nécessaire Egg
1902 Empire Nephrite Egg
1903 Danish Jubilee Egg
1909 Alexander III Commemorative Egg
1917 Karelian Birch Egg

Of the seven missing eggs, two are known to have survived the Russian revolution and the hunt is on for these priceless treasures. The Imperial Nécessaire Egg of 1889 was last seen in London in 1952 when it was sold by Fabergé specialists, Wartski, to an unidentified buyer.

The Nécessaire Egg is described as:

A fine gold egg, richly set with diamonds, cabochon rubies, emeralds, a large coloured diamond at top and a cabochon sapphire at point. The interior is designed as an Etui with thirteen diamond set implements.

Background image: Nephrite jade carving of a snail, by Fabergé, late 19th to early 20th century, St. Petersburg, Russia. Museum no. C.1190-1917. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London