‘Romance to Revolution’ is the name of the Fabergé exposition that opened on November 20, 2021 in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The exposition explores the famous goldsmith Carl Fabergé, known for the extravagantly decorated Easter eggs. The exposition at the V&A displays 15 of these iconic eggs, which is the most extensive collection of Fabergé eggs on public display. If you go to the V&A website to book a ticket for this exposition, there’s a great chance you won’t succeed, since the exposition has been sold out for weeks. But how is it that an exposition about a jeweler who died over 100 years ago is so popular nowadays? In this blog, we will tell you all about Fabergé and the famous Imperial eggs.
Who was Peter Carl Fabergé?
Peter Carl Fabergé was born almost exactly 176 years ago, namely on the 30th of May, 1846. He was born in St. Petersburg, as a son of a German jeweler. His father, Gustav Fabergé, opened his jewellery firm ‘House of Fabergé’ in St. Petersburg in 1842. In 1830, Gustav Fabergé retired and the whole family moved to Dresden, Germany. In Dresden, Peter Carl Fabergé continued his education. But not long after graduating, he went on a ‘grand tour’ through Europe, on which he learned the trade of jewellery making from respected goldsmiths. In 1864, he returned home as a certified jeweler and got a job in his father’s business. At the time, the House of Fabergé was a very ordinary jewellery business, of which there were a lot in St. Petersburg. Peter Carl, however, was destined to be different than the masses.
In 1882, Peter Carl’s brother Agathon joined the company and together they took over the business. Peter Carl and his brother brought about a true transformation of the House of Fabergé. At the time, the value of jewellery and decorative art was determined by the measurements and weight of the precious metals and stones that were used in it. Peter Carl, however, thought that the values of these pieces had to be determined by the craftmanship and the time that was put into the work. So, out went the jewellery styles where diamonds prevailed and in came the colourful pieces made by design-led artists. In the years that followed, the House of Fabergé grew into a famous and fashionable jeweler’s house.
The Imperial eggs: how the luxurious Easter present became a tradition
In 1882, Peter Carl Fabergé and his brother exhibited at he Pan-Russian Exhibition. It was at this event that Tsar Alexander III first became familiar with the work of the House of Fabergé, since he bought a pair of cufflinks for his wife. The Tsar liked what he saw at the exhibition and ordered the work to be displayed in the Hermitage. About three years later, in 1885, the Tsar himself placed an order at the House of Fabergé. He commissioned the company to create Easter Egg as a present or his wife, Tsarina Maria Feodorovna. This first egg was called The Hen Egg and had an enamelled white outer shell and could be opened to reveal a smaller, yellow gold yolk inside. The yolk in turn contained an enamelled chased gold hen. Originally, the hen even contained a replica of the Imperial Crown made of white gold and diamonds, which could also be opened and contained a precious ruby pendant. The Tsarina was very pleased with her gift and Fabergé was asked to create an Easter egg every year. Fabergé was given complete freedom in designing these eggs; the only requirement was that they had to contain a surprise. Even after the death of Tsar Alexander III, his successor carried on with the tradition and even ordered two eggs every year: one for his wife and one for his mother. The tradition was continued until 1916 and over 50 original Easter eggs were created. In the meantime, the company continued to grow and not only Easter eggs, but many other objects were created. The House of Fabergé became the largest company in Russia, employing around 500 craftsmen and designers and branches in Moscow, Odessa, Kiev and London.
The downfall of the House of Fabergé
From 1914, the House of Fabergé got in trouble because of the outbreak of the Great War. Many employees had to leave in order to join the army and precious metals were scarce. Moreover, the demand for luxury goods decreased drastically during the war. In 1918, the House of Fabergé was nationalised and its stock was confiscated. Two sons of Peter Carl Fabergé established Fabergé & Cie in 1924, to trade and re-store general jewellery and objets d’art and objects that were made by the House of Fabergé. Between 1937 and 1951, the name ‘Fabergé Inc.’ was used by Sam Rubin as the name of his perfume brand and he later sold it to cosmetic company Rayette. This was possible because the Fabergé family had decided to settle out of court to avoid high legal fees. Sam Rubin however, had to pay $25,000 to use the name. In 1989, Unilever bought Fabergé Inc and registered the name as a trademark across a wide range of merchandise. This led to the name that used to be associated with the Imperial eggs now being used to name domestic cleaning range…
The comeback of the egg
It was in 1990 that Victor Mayer GmbH began their relationship with Fabergé. This renowned German jewellery firm was authorised to create Fabergé jewellery and art objects under exclusive license. The firm was appointed the only authorised Fabergé workmaster and thus they were permitted to create pieces stamped with the Fabergé hallmark. Victor Mayer’s designs were only created in collaboration with a Fabergé expert to make sure that the designs matched Carl Fabergé’s legacy. It was during this period that the famous Fabergé eggs also made their return: Victor Mayer created multiple egg objects and egg pendants. In 2007, Fabergé Limited announced that it acquired the Fabergé trademarks, licenses and associated rights relating to the name Fabergé from Unilever. On the special date the 9th of September 2009, Fabergé relaunched with the ‘Les Fabuleuses’ high jewellery collection. From 31st December, 2012, all the licenses that had been granted to third parties had lapsed or been terminated. So, Fabergé made a comeback and to this day it is possible to buy their famous egg charms or even one of the modern versions of the Imperial eggs.
However, Victor Mayer’s license ended in 2008, which means that they no longer create jewellery under the Fabergé license. Since this license lasted for less than two decades, pieces of this collection are very rare. Thus, these pieces are not only valuable because of their exquisite craftmanship and sophistication, but also in the fact that they belong to their own era in the famous Fabergé history.
Are you mesmerized by the story of the Fabergé eggs? Well guess what: we have managed to get our hands on an egg pendant from the Victor Mayer collection! Like we explained above, these pieces are very rare, so this pendant is a special find. Want to know more? Don’t hesitate to contact us, we are happy to tell you more about this unique piece!
“Enjoy your journey through the magical world of Fabergé and don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions!” -xxx- Sophie