The rare eggs made with precious materials by Carl Peter Fabergé have become the icons of his work worldwide. In cinema, they appear as objects of desire, as in “007 Contra Octopussy” and “Eleven Men and a Secret”. However, in real life, the story of Fabergé and his family would also yield a film, with links to Germany.
At the end of the 19th century, economic growth drove the jewelry industry in several countries, especially in Russia, which is known as “the golden age” of this art. A great symbol of this period was Carl Peter Fabergé, who with his talent became supplier to the court of the Russian tsar and appraiser of imperial treasures, as well as supplier to the court of the kings of Scandinavia, England, Greece, Bulgaria, and Zion (present-day Thailand).
The Fabergé family has been in the jewelry business since Peter Fabergé (Carl’s grandfather), followed by his son, Gustav who opened his first jewelry store, the House of Fabergé, in 1842, in St. Petersburg. Born in Russia, the son of a German father and a Danish mother, Carl attended the German school in St. Petersburg, but his history in Germany began in Dresden, where he attended the Dresden Business School, and from there he went on a great trip through Europe, getting to know several jewelers, to delve into the art developed by the family. His second son, Agathon, was also born in Dresden in 1862.
In 1882, Carl took over the family business and was accompanied by his brother Agathon Fabergé. However, Carl’s notoriety was due to his famous Fabergé eggs, representing Easter eggs, but using metals and precious stones.
These pieces were appreciated by the Russian imperial family, where the Russian Tsar Alexander III, who annually presented his wife with these peculiar jewels, always with some surprise inside. His son, Nicolau II, followed this tradition, however, ordering two eggs annually, one for his mother and one for his wife. Fabergé even received the award for “special goldsmith of the Imperial Crown” in 1885.
Despite the notoriety of eggs, the House of Fabergé also produced other objects, such as fine cutlery and jewelry. Between 1882 and 1917, it is estimated that the production reached 200,000 objects. However, in 1917, with the Russian Revolution and a wave of confiscations and nationalization of companies, Fabergé’s venture did not pass safely. The fifty eggs made for the Russian imperial family were stolen by the revolutionaries when they occupied the palace and then executed by all members of the imperial family, which became known as the tragic end of the Romanov dynasty.
The end of Casa Fabergé – revolt and sadness
In the year following the Russian Revolution, the company was taken over by the workers’ committee, being nationalized and having its stock confiscated, marking the end of House of Fabergé. Carl Fabergé left St. Petersburg with one of his children, on a diplomatic train, reuniting with his wife and other children in Switzerland in 1920. Carl never recovered from the trauma caused by the Russian Revolution and died in the same year, at the age of 74 years old. Such was his passion for the craft, that the family itself said that Fabergé had died of sadness and disgust.
Fabergé eggs have become extremely valuable and disputed pieces, being objects of collectors. Of the 50 eggs of the imperial family, eight are missing and the other 42 are scattered around the world, 10 of them in the Kremlin Arsenal Palace.
In St. Petersburg, there is the magnificent Fabergé Museum, in the Shuvalov Palace. This private museum was founded by Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, who completed the world’s largest collection of masterpieces by Carl Fabergé by Malcolm Forbes, including nine of the 40 imperial eggs.
For those who are in Germany and want to get to know Carl Fabergé’s fabulous art up close, in Baden-Baden there is another Fabergé Museum, where there is a collection that contains more than 1,500 private collection items produced by Fabergé. Items in the collection include a rare silver rabbit-shaped bottle and the penultimate imperial Easter egg, the “birch egg”.
The Fabergé Museum in Baden-Baden has jewelry and items produced for everyday use, such as cigarette cases, and objects created during the First World War, in addition to its magnificent jewels.
In addition to admiring all these pieces, there are exclusive photographic materials and original personal documents that tell more about Fabergé and his master jewelers.