The jeweller of fabulous surprises

Jeweller to the Russian Imperial court, Peter Carl Fabergé (1846-1920) is considered one of the greatest goldsmiths, jewellers and designers in Western decorative arts. The series of 50 magnificent enamel, jewelled imperial Easter eggs made for the imperial court between 1885 to 1916 assured worldwide fame for the House of Fabergé, intertwined as they are with the opulence and downfall of the Royal Romanov family who commissioned them.

We may all know the famed Fabergé imperial Easter eggs, but hidden inside these eggs lies not only the wondrous surprise each jewel is renowned for, but also the Fabergé family’s years of dedication to learning the highest craft of goldsmithing.

It was Gustav Faberge (born 1814) that guided his family to the jewels of antiquity. Having completed his apprenticeship as a goldsmith and opened his first jewellery shop (with an added accent to his name: Fabergé), Gustav left his business in the capable hands of his managers to move his young family to Dresden. Here, his son, Peter Carl, wandered the rooms of the Grünes Gewölbe (Green Vault), admiring some of Europe’s finest treasure. Following in his father’s footsteps, Carl turned to goldsmiths in Germany, France and England for tuition, before returning to St Petersburg to be mentored by his father’s loyal workmaster, Hiskias Pendin, and was tasked with repairing fine jewels from the Hermitage collection.

Carl’s years of studying the techniques of exquisite antique jewellery inspired him and his brother, Agathon, to break from the contemporary fascination with diamonds and recentre on complex designs and decorative elements, particularly reviving interest in enamelling. To this day, Fabergé jewels are renowned for the fineness of their enamel work, with delicate tones and translucencies that belie the difficulty of the enamelling process. Their trademark ability to transform everyday objects, such as mantel clocks and cigarette cases into rare artistic confections, with sophisticated enamelling techniques, stone-setting and goldwork was widely copied and admired by the royal courts of Europe. Such was their popularity and respect that, by 1900, the company employed around 500 craftspeople and designers. The Fabergé family left Russia following the 1917 revolution, with two of Carl’s sons settling in Paris to open Fabergé & Cie.