NEW YORK – Fabergé is certainly one of the best known jewellers of all time. The name evokes objects of astonishing artistry and craftsmanship concocted to satisfy the tastes of Europe’s wealthiest court – or in more contemporary times, the name might conjure news reports of Imperial Easter eggs sold for extraordinary sums. The Fabergé firm produced much more than just these jewelled “eggs” – and new collectors might be surprised to learn how affordable some of these pieces can be. Here are three starting points for building a Fabergé collection of your own.
A Fabergé lilac pencil, to be offered in the upcoming sale, Collections: Silver, Vertu, and Russian Works of Art, at Sotheby's New York on 14 October.
For the Desk and the Study
One of the pleasures of Fabergé is the way the firm’s workmasters even made objects for everyday use tremendously exquisite, usually with the help of the rainbow of enamel colors they had developed. The colors could be mixed or matched on a desk; correspondence and daily work required gum pots to hold glue, paper knives to open letters or cut paper to the appropriate size, desk seals to hold wax and card trays. Even a simple pencil could take numerous delightful forms. Chief workmaster Henrik Wigström's marvelous telescoping pencil in blue translucent enamel (sold for $11,250) also includes bands of tiny flowers in multiple colors of gold and platinum. Pencils were made in every shape and color: a combination pencil and letter opener from Anna Ringe’s workshop was enamelled in a fashionable shade of lilac, while a jewelled example from the Moscow workshops included a tiny diamond-set button that when pressed, revealled the pencil.
A pair of Imperial presentation Fabergé-jewelled varicolour gold and guilloché enamel cufflinks,
workmaster Henrik Wigström, St. Petersburg, 1908. Sold for $10,000.
Cufflinks for Ladies and Gentlemen
By the 1870s, cufflinks on the modern shirtsleeve enjoyed widespread popularity, and ladies adopted the accessory as the shirtwaist dress came into fashion shortly thereafter. Members of the Imperial family kept jewel albums in which they recorded images of the cufflinks, bracelets and tiepins given to them by their closest relatives. From these albums we know that Fabergé provided an endless variety of designs. The designs took advantage of every skill the Fabergé’s workmasters could offer, including hardstone carving, enamelling and gem-setting. The greatest advantage of cufflinks is that they can be worn almost daily, allowing you to enjoy your collection no matter where you might be, such as these gold and carved hardstone cufflinks by workmaster Erik Kollin, which were among the items from Fabergé to be taken on the Emperor’s trip to the Imperial residence at Spala and abroad (sold for $11,375).
An example of a necklace with nineteen minature Easter egg pendants.
Miniature Easter egg pendants
The practice of decorating and exchanging eggs at Easter can be traced back more than a millennium. In the 18th century, fashionable jewellers made egg-form boxes to serve as bonbonnières, holding candies or pastilles, or nécessaires, small decorative cases fitted with compartments for such “necessary” items as perfume flasks, pencils, scissors and nail files. The earliest examples of Russian gem-set enamelled miniature egg pendants are found in the collection of Empress Catherine II (r. 1762–1796). By the end of the 19th century, the pendant eggs had become a traditional gift of wealthier Russians. The tiny eggs were decorated with symbols of good luck, family history, scenes of spring or stylish ornament. The eggs were kept on a gold chain with new examples added each year. While red was considered the traditional color, Fabergé’s miniature Easter eggs, like the cufflinks, took advantage of every possible sort of decoration.
Left: A Fabergé varicolour gold, enamel and carved hardstone vinaigrette egg pendant,
workmaster Henrik Wigström, St. Petersburg, 1903-1904. Sold for $18,750.
Right: A Fabergé jewelled gold and guilloché enamel Easter egg pendant,
workmaster Henrik Wigström, St. Petersburg, 1903-1917. Sold for $8,125.