First off, I love Faberge eggs! These beautiful and exquisite objects have always had me hooked. The eggs, combined with their ownership by an eccentric, out-of-touch royal family created a compelling and tragic story.
When I was about 16 years old, I vividly remember coveting a set of 12 Faberge egg reproductions. I was on the fence about purchasing them, only because I wasn't sure I had the right set-up to display them properly. Unfortunately, when I shared my plans with my mom and my best friend, they felt I would be wasting my money on trivial, impractical items. I didn't end up getting them, and I still regret it.
Faberge’s eggs and his relationship with the Russian royal family have always gotten the most attention. But as I learned more about Peter Carl Faberge (1846 – 1920), I realized that eggs were only a portion of his portfolio of work. Read on to learn some things you may not have known about him.
Know for his jewelry more than his eggs
Peter Faberge was one of the most prominent jewelers of his time. His workshops all over Russia employed over 500 artisans. And they produced thousands of pieces of jewelry. Faberge was influenced by art from all over the world, as well as ancient and modern styles.
His jewelry was unique. Instead of focusing on the size of the gems, he focused more on the design. Peter used precious and semi-precious stones. Not just gold and silver, but malachite, jade, rock crystal, and lapis lazuli. He carved gems. He used enamel extensively. Everyone could tell his work was unlike anything that had been seen before. It wasn’t too long before he had plenty of patrons clamoring for his work.
Of course, very little of the jewelry survives today. Lots was either destroyed or melted down during the Revolution that followed.
Faberge was a family business
The House of Faberge officially began with Gustav Faberge, Peter’s father. A master goldsmith, he had a shop in St. Petersburg starting in 1841. Peter and his brother, Agathon, both joined their dad after they trained and apprenticed in Europe. Peter joined when he was only 18, and officially took over from his father when he was 26. He was also designated a master goldsmith.
Not only did Peter make eggs and jewelry, his workshops created tons of everyday items. Little sculptures, desk sets, clocks, frames, candlesticks, jewelry boxes, holders for cigarette and eyeglass, etc. If there was a way to make an ordinary item more beautiful, that’s what they did.
In fact, it’s these items that we see most in museums, and that you could still buy today.
Faberge's talent with enamel
Peter’s work was widely admired. But the one thing no one could get over was his use of enamel. The amazing colors set him above and apart from other artists of the time. To this day, there is no one that can replicate the tremendous diversity of colors he used.
Don’t just take my word for it that Peter was a living legend. He and his company impressed at exhibitions throughout Russia and Europe.
The House of Faberge won the gold medal at the 1882 Pan-Russian Exhibition. This is where Peter caught the eye of the Russian Tsar, Alexander III, who had their work displayed in the Hermitage as an example of superior craftsmanship. The Hertimage is one of the largest and oldest museums in the entire world. It’s been around since 1764, when it was founded by Catherine the Great. She devoted the museum to art and culture.
The Tsar then appointed Peter as Supplier to the Court. And in his first year as supplier, he designed an egg for the Russian Royal Family.
Peter also won the gold medal at the 1885 Nuremberg Exhibition. At just 39 years old, he was able to recreate an ancient gold Scythian bangle that was indistinguishable from the original. It won him worldwide attention. He was awarded royal warrants for the courts of Sweden and Norway. This meant he could create jewelry and other objects for them.
In 1900, the ever famous Imperial Eggs were shown for the first time at the Universal Paris Exposition. Needless to say, they were a hit and Peter received the highest award.
The British Royal Family
Peter’s success allowed him expand the business, and he opened branches in Moscow (1887), Odessa (1890), Kieve (1905) and London (1903).
While we hear a lot of the Russian Royal Family, the British Royal Family loved him too! In fact, the current British Royal Collection of Faberge has over 700 pieces, including over 200 miniature animal sculptures.
It wasn’t just royalty that loved Peter. Plenty of regular people thought he was great, and what they loved best were his animals. Peter and his artisans made dogs, chickens, rabbits, and frogs. But what everyone loved best were pigs and elephants. They were carved from agate, carnelian, or jade, with the rubies or diamonds for the eyes. Throughout Russia, Faberge was was beloved for his amazing craftsmanship of these small sculptures.
One of my favorite books, Faberge’s Animals: A Royal Farm in Miniature, has beautiful pictures of the hundreds of tiny animal sculptures from the British Royal Collection of Faberge.
The End of Faberge
Unfortunately, revolution came to Russia. The revolutionaries nationalized the company and sold the eggs. The royal family was executed and so many beautiful Faberge pieces were sold, destroyed, or melted down. Peter was able escape and never returned to St. Petersburg. He died in Switzerland only two years later.
This post has been edited and updated since it was originally published on May 16, 2015. (It was my very first post!)