Rebecca Wang is passionate about the finest art forms and unsurpassed craftsmanship, so she appreciates the fascination and motivation of the admiring queue of enthusiasts who have continuously filed through a select showroom in London’s Mayfair in the period leading up to the Easter weekend. The showroom belongs to the Faberge specialist Wartski, and the goal of the visitors has been the unique privilege of seeing a small exquisitely crafted golden egg, on display for the first time in 112 years.
Sitting on a tripod whose legs have been intricately worked into lion paw feet, the top half of the ridged outer yellow gold shell is opened back from a diamond push piece, while around the centre of the lower half are scooped garlands worked in contrasting gold, their bows studded with tiny cabochon sapphires and rose diamonds. Inside the outer shell is the oval of an inner golden egg and within that sits a jewelled ladies watch crafted by the Geneva watchmakers Constantin Vacheron.
The egg is the third in the series of the 50 Imperial Faberge Easter Eggs, and has recently been established as the 43rd known to be in existence. Rediscovered in the most unlikely of circumstances, it was last seen in a 1964 auction catalogue where it had sold for $2450. In the eighties a part time dealer acquired it for around $14,000 at a bric a brac market. He intended to sell it on for scrap, but as he had overestimated the scrap value, had no success. He began to search on Google and found a 2011 article describing the egg where the Wartski Faberge expert estimated it value could reach £20 million. He contacted Wartski who flew out to the mid-West and confirmed the validity.
Specially created by the House of Faberge for the Russian Imperial Family during the final thirty years of their rule, it was made at the request of Tsar Alexander III as an Easter gift for his wife Maria Feodorovna. The first egg made in 1885 had so delighted the Royal family that the tradition continued; with the only condition being that each one should contain a surprise.
Each egg took a year from first design to its completion for delivery on Good Friday, and over the years “surprises “ included a ruby egg hanging from a miniature of the Imperial Crown, or, to reflect the creation of the Trans Siberian Railway, the longest rail route in the world, miniature rolling stock in gold.
The House of Faberge had been founded some sixty years previously by Gustave, who arrived from Estonia in St Petersburg to train as goldsmith. He built a sound business and by the time his son Peter Carl took over, the House of Faberge was creating exclusive masterpieces of jewellery and ornamental objects for a highly exclusive clientele. Such was the skill, prestige and renown of its workmanship that by the early twentieth century, it had established outlets in Odessa, Kiev, Moscow and London.
Peter Carl had enjoyed a full and broad formation, including business study in Paris and Dresden, training with goldsmiths in England, France and Germany, and the undertaking of a Grand Tour, all of which helped shape his skill and vision: it was under his leadership that House of Faberge reached the reputation it still enjoys today.
In addition to the eggs, the company produced a full range of other precious items, each subject to scrupulous approval from Carl or his son Eugene- the tiniest of faults would result in rejection. Subjects included miniature flora, fauna and people, and inspiration was drawn from previous craft and national traditions as well as the most careful observation, sketching and modelling from nature. The firm extended stylistically on previous enamel work developed in France, and took the Italian and German cultural tradition along with Russian nobility’s love of folk, peasant or national characters for figurines.
Flowers and animals were observed and copied from life, with careful studies being made from nature to achieve realistic effects: a dandelion of spun asbestos fibres and green nephrite was set in a vase and “water” of clear crystal; hand stone carvings were inspired by farm animals at the Royal Sandringham Estate in Norfolk. Special or favoured clients might be invited to make their own input into the design process.
All changed dramatically in 1917 when the Bolshevik revolution came to Russia. The company was nationalised, the family scattered across Europe and priceless pieces were confiscated, taken or disappeared. Across the Atlantic in the USA, the company name was registered for toiletries by an American, and then became absorbed in various business takeovers, but most significantly, for almost one hundred years there was no involvement from the Faberge family in the products that bore their name.
Happily at the most recent takeover in 2007, successful initiatives were begun to reunify firm and family, and incorporate the heritage of experience into current production. Faberge re-launched in 2009 under the experienced creative and managing directorship of Katharina Flohr. She works in close contact with Carl’s great granddaughters Sarah and Tatiana Faberge who sit on the Faberge Heritage Council and offer expertise and guidance to the company.
Still engaged in creating magnificence from precious metals and gemstones, Faberge has updated its Easter egg message with the Big Egg Hunt initiative which has run in recent years and sees contemporary world class artists and designers design unique eggs which are hidden across a city for participants to find. This year’s lucky winners in New York stand to win one of three Faberge jewelled eggs on pendants.