ransforming luxurious materials such as gemstones and precious metals, the art of the jeweller, goldsmith and enameller has always exemplified the elevation of naturally occurring materials into works of art. Catering to the taste of their royal and noble patrons, goldsmiths from 18th century Europe to Imperial Russia created inimitable works in enamel, hardstone, gemstones, silver and gold. The sale jointly offers exceptional chased and enamelled gold boxes and objects of vertu from Paris, Geneva, London and Germany (lots 1201-1274), magnificent works by the house of Fabergé and precious objets de luxe (lots 1275- 1346) sourced primarily from European and American private collections. In their artistry and ingenuity, these objects were the most lavish of their time and remain sought after by connoisseurs today, combining beauty and craftsmanship with history and impeccable provenance.
Winter in Diamonds & Rock Crystal: Fabergé’s Iconic Frost Designs
Relating to the Fabergé's famous Imperial Winter Easter Egg of 1913, the 'winter' series of objects, crafted from diamond-mounted rock crystal, are some of the rarest and most sought after works by the famous jewellery house. It is therefore incredible to have one such significant work from this series of designs in our auction. The wondrous Fabergé red cross ice pendant (lot 1282), given to the personal nurse of Ludvig Nobel's son, is offered at auction directly by her descendants for the first time. Part of the most innovative, modern and important series of objects by the famous jewellery house, these two works are timeless masterpieces of design.
The Fabergé firm’s excellence in the field of jewellery earnt them international acclaim amongst collectors and other jewellers. Indeed, even the distinguished houses of Cartier and Boucheron sought inspiration in the work of Fabergé’s designers and workmasters. They were not only court jeweller in Imperial Russia, but also served the royal courts throughout Europe. The jewellery on offer (lots 1275-1278 and 1281-1286) is exemplary of the fine craftsmanship which garnered this international fame, the masterful use of notoriously challenging materials such as rock crystal and guilloché enamel, as well as innovative, playful and modern design.
Property from a Prominent Collection, Germany and United States
Hardstone or trompe l’oeil enamel – from the 18th century to Fabergé’s creations
Early 18th century France saw a growing interest in arborised agate and other naturally-patterned hardstones, often as part of mineralogical cabinets owned by those with strong scientific interest in nature’s products and the desire to collect, categorise, research and compare them. Arguably one of the most prominent owners of such a hardstone cabinet was the famous French painter François Boucher (1703-1770), who owned a cabinet including ‘many jaspers, puddingstones and pebbles, several of which were cut for snuffboxes, 53 lots of agates, sardonyxes and carnelians’ (Alexis Kugel, Gold, Jasper and Carnelian, Johann Christian Neuber at the Saxon Court, London, 2012, p. 72). It therefore comes as no surprise that patterned stones soon found their way into the decorative arts and particularly gold boxes (see lot 1219). Not only were these cherished for the beautiful patterns alone, but also for the somewhat pictorial inclusions which were sometimes used to create images, such as lot 3 - a gold-mounted agate box with natural patterns in the shape of a ghost.
Another celebrated material were dendritic agates with their mossy inclusions, revived again in the late 19th century by English and French jewellers (see lot 1270), and in the late 19th/early 20th century by the famous house of Fabergé, as can be seen in a charming jewelled agate brooch in this sale (lot 1287).
This interest in nature’s own forms had also soon transitioned into yet another art form in the late 18th century – trailblazing Paris goldsmiths would not only mount agate panels in elaborately chased or enamelled gold, but also use these dendritic patterns as source of inspiration for enamelled surfaces, such as Charles-Alexandre Bouillerot (lot 1224). For a few years from around 1770, imitating hardstones such as lapis lazuli, agates or marble in enamel was extremely fashionable in Paris, and soon thereafter naturally spread to Geneva, as a jewelled example cleverly enamelled to simulate heliotrope in this sale demonstrates (lot 1218). This successful concept was then once more revived in the 19th century (see lot 1265) and taken to new glamorous heights by Fabergé, such as lot 1288 in this sale, a brightly-enamelled guilloché enamel gold box in a pattern resembling dendritic agate.
Fabergé on Exhibition
Sotheby’s is delighted to exhibit this Fabergé pendant from a private collection for the first time ever alongside works from our 15 November sale of Fabergé, Gold Boxes & Objets de Luxe.
The present pendant was bought from Fabergé by the Honourable Eleanor Wilson Fox (1871-1963, née Eleanor Birch Sclater-Booth), daughter of the 1st Baron Basing. In 1948, Wilson-Fox gifted the pendant to her goddaughter Sylvia on the occasion of her 21st birthday. Eleanor’s family played a prominent role in British politics of the time. Her father, George Sclater-Booth, was a British Conservative politician who, between 1874 and 1880, served as the President of the Local Government Board under Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. In 1898, Eleanor married Henry Wilson-Fox (1863-1921), a lawyer, journalist and later politician whose father was the physician of Queen Victoria. Eleanor was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1918 for her work as Chairman of the South African Comforts Committee in London.
Eleanor and Henry spent much of their time abroad, leading Eleanor to become the Vice-Chairman of the Society for the Overseas Settlement of British Women. Though much of their time was spent in Africa, they also lived and worked for a short while in Russia, where the family became well acquainted with the house of Fabergé. One of Wilson-Fox’s most notable purchases from the prestigious firm was a splendid tiara known as the Cyclamen Tiara, now in the collection of the Duke and Duchess of Westminster.
‘Possibly the most bewitching of all the tiaras made by Fabergé’ (G.C. Munn, Tiaras: A History of Splendour, 2001, p. 303), this incredible diadem was designed by Albert Holmström around 1903. As is common with tiaras produced in this period, the diamond-set trail of flowers can be removed from their gold frame, transforming the tiara into an articulated fringe necklace whose tendrils then wrap delicately around the wearer’s neck. As Geoffrey Munn writes, the cyclamen was ‘a charming little flower that blooms even before the snowdrops. After an interminable Russian winter this must have been a welcome sign of the coming spring’ (G.C. Munn, op. cit., p. 303).