Russian jeweler Carl Faberge (1846-1920) was born the son of a jeweler, Gustav Faberge, owner of a small shop on Bolshaya Morskaya Street in St. Petersburg.
Having received a good education, in 1870 Carl joined his father's business and soon rose to become head of the company He began to supply his works to the Cabinet of His Imperial Majesty, responsible for imperial purchases, while also working as a restorer of ancient Greek artifacts and jewelry of the 16th-18th centuries at the Imperial Hermitage, then under the administration of the Imperial Court. Henceforth the name of Faberge was to be inseparably linked with the Winter Palace and the Hermitage, as he found increasing numbers of faithful admirers among the Imperial family and the aristocracy
In 1882 Faberge took part in the Moscow Arts and Industry Exhibition, winning his first award. In 1885, the Cabinet of His Imperial Majesty commissioned an Easter egg containing a surprise - a chicken - intended
as a gift from the Emperor Alexander III to his wife, Empress Maria Fiodorovna. Thus began the famous "Imperial series" of Easter eggs that
brought Faberge world renown. By 1918 the firm had made 50 eggs for Maria Fiodorovna and Empress Alexandra Fiodorovna, wife of the last Emperor, Nicholas II. Although these eggs were initially kept in the Winter Palace, after the revolution they were moved to Moscow and during the 1930s all but ten were sold abroad to raise money for the Soviet state. The remaining eggs are now showcased in the Armory. In 1885 Faberge received the title of "supplier to His Imperial Highness, with the right to place the Imperial coat-of-arms on his sign". In the same
year his younger brother Agathon (1862-1895), a talented artist and connoisseur, joined the business. From 1886 until his death in 1903, the firm also employed the jeweler Mikhail Perkhin, who was entrusted with the firm's most important commissions. For Faberge, the 1880s were a time for finding the firm's identity and establishing its reputation.
Financial stability soon allowed the brothers to expand: in 1887 they opened an office in Moscow, then in Odessa (1900) and Kiev (1906). In 1903 a subsidiary was opened in London to carry out business with foreign clients.
The Faberges were active participants in international arts and industry fairs in Nuremberg (1885), Copenhagen (1888) and Stockholm (1897) and invariably received high awards. After the Nordic Exhibition in Stockholm, Carl Faberge was honored with the title of Court Jeweler to His Majesty the King of Sweden and Norway The year 1900 was a significant landmark in the firm's history for Faberge was awarded the Grand Prix at the Paris Exposition Universelle [International Exhibition], as well as a number of lesser awards and prizes. This success was the result of Carl's successful artistic policy, in which he was supported by his brother Agathon, and, after Agathon's death, by the firm's chief craftsman and artist, Franz Birbaum. During the 1890s, Carl's sons - by this time highly trained jewelry specialists - joined the family business one after another. In 1898 Faberge purchased a plot of land at 24 Bolshaya Morskaya, where the architect Schmidt erected a vast building with a massive facade of Serdobol granite from Karelia: a symbol of wealth and prosperity.
In 1900 the family moved into their new home, which also housed the main workshops headed by A. Holmstrom, A. Hollming,A. Thielemann and Mikhail Perkhin. Faberge's chief silversmith was,as before, J. Rappoport, along with S. Wakeva, V. Aarne and many others who worked on a contract basis. Soon the Faberges added their own stone-cutting works, as orders for pieces including colored stones grew from year to year.
In 1902 the Imperial Hermitage helped to arrange the first - and for many
years only - exhibition of the work of a single jeweler in the history of Russia. Works were lent by Faberge's adoring clients, Dowager Empress Maria Fiodorovna and Empress Alexandra Fiodorovna (the patrons of the show) and other members of the Imperial family and the highest ranks. For two days, the palace of Baron von Derviz on the English Embankment sparkled with elegant jewels displayed in the glass cases and on the persons of the visitors to the exhibition. Carl Faberge had achieved the peak of his fame.
In 1910 Faberge received the title of Court Jeweler, although he had effectively filled the post for some time. Commissions came in from almost all the royal houses of Europe... even from Siam. The firm's salesmen roamed as far as India and China, and the fame of the Petersburg jeweler's work spread far beyond the borders of Russia, not to fade with the passage of time.
"Great Faberge in the Hermitage", on exhibition in the Blue Chamber of the Winter Palace, is now in its third year. Every October the display is replenished with new pieces from the exhibition's main lender, Mr. John A. Traina, Jr., owner of a magnificent collection of Faberge cigarette cases. Objects loaned by other Petersburg museums are also rotated, and this year the FORBES Magazine Collection, owner of one of the largest Faberge collections in the world, has lent several pieces. Carl Faberge's key position in the history of jewelry is ensured. But he could not have put Petersburg on the map as a major center without his teachers, such as the Keibels, J. Jannasch, H. Kammerer, S. Arndt, V. Sazikov, L. Zeftigen, nor without his competitors, such as F. Koechli, the Buttses, the Bolins, the Grachevs, A. Ivanov, P. Ovchinnikovand I. Khiebnikov. And those who worked with him - more than twenty excellent jewelers at Bolshaya Morskaya alone. Some of Faberge's contemporaries, such as I. Britsyn,C. Hann, A Tillander and C. Blank, were strongly influenced by the master, while others such as A. Denisov-Uralsky the Grachev brothers, P. Ovchinnikov, I. Khiebnikov and F. Verkhovtsev managed to preserve their own unique style.
In order to better understand and fully value the artistry of Faberge, the organizers have included works by his contemporaries here as well. As we look at pieces by C. Bolin, I. Britsyn and P. Ovchinnikov and others we begin to understand that the Petersburg school of jewelry maintained the traditions of the great masters dating back to the 18th century.
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