Image: Luxury London, rare Fabergé crown designed for Princess Alexandra of Hanover and Cumberland.
We all have heard stories of the world famous Fabergé Eggs, which were a present from Tsar Nicolas II to Tsarine Alexandra. But not everyone knows Peter Carl’s strategy in becoming one of the most important imperial jewellers of all times.
Gustav, a skillful craftsman
The house of Fabergé was founded by a Blatic German jeweller Gustav Fabergé which went to St. Petersburg to train as a goldsmith, he worked under master Andreas Spiegel; a gold box specialist which unfortunately are not much documented traces of left. Later, Gustav joined the exclusive house of Keibel from German origins which designed distinguished Tsar clientele. Keibel was known for their work on medals, decorations and the crafting of a crown for the coronation of empress Alexandra.
When his apprenticeship was completed, Gustav decided to open his own jewelry firm after his name “Faberge“; but decided to add an accent at the end because in Russia “ge” is pronounced as “jay”.
He began by opening the first store in a basement on Bolshaya Morskaya Street, which was the most fashionable at the time, and married Charlotte Jungste. A few years later, their first son Peter Carl (the creator of the eggs) arrived to their lives. Born and raised in St. Petersburg, Carl went to the Dresden Arts and Crafts School where he learnt about the business and was a regular visitor to the Grünes Gewölbe (where it displays the largest collection of European treasures).
Later, Peter sought for education outside Russia. He received great recognition from respected goldsmiths in Germany, France (where he attended to Schloss’s Commercial College) and England. He was a great admirer of art, spent lots of time in galleries and museums. When he returned home, Carl received tutoring from master Hiskias Pendin and began to restore masterpieces in Hermitag’s museum where he learnt forgotten techniques; this was a huge influence on his contemporary work.
Images: Art Now and Then / Jewellery Appraisers of the World / Visit Petersburg
Inexpensive-gifts focused strategy
Upon the death of master Hiskias Pendin, Carl took responsibility in running the house of Fabergé. He knew talent was not an issue, but it was necessary for him to get advantage in one of the most competed markets at the time and found his perfect niche, gifts.
Being part of the high class or nobility required lots of presents, but even the most rich people sometimes cannot afford to give expensive gifts each time they met someone important. So Carl designed inexpensive animal sculptures made from different stones and metals. Paying only for the talented craftsman work was a great deal, and the name of Fabergé started to gain popularity.
Images: Royal Collection Trust
Perfection on its own
(1885) The first of over 50 Fabergé egg ever crated, was the “Hen egg” designed as a present from Tsar Alexander III to his wife Maria. With an incredible but simple design of a white enamelled opaque shell which twists-open to reveal a golden egg yolk, contained a gold hen that revealed a precious small crown and ruby pendant. Tsarine Maria mesmerized and delighted from his work, appointed Carl to design a “Egg with hen in the basket” (which remains lost). After, the imperial house gave Carl creative freedom to deliver one each year.
Actually, often eggs took more than a year to make, so his work-masters found themselves creating the next egg before the one planned for the current year had been delivered.
It would be foolish to think that Fabergé’s pieces were created by a single man, but he was the mind that made it all possible. The credit relies on the artisans that worked for him. Besides being and amazing designer, he was an even better administrator. Under his hierarchy, were the headmasters which were semi-independent craftsman, each one specialized in a particular area of jewelry making. The ones in charge of actually assembling the items (which were more than 500) followed by the apprentices, all of them were “independent companies” which competed against each other on designs and techniques; this created a cross-company brainstorm that managed to create the iconic objects we can appreciate today. Sometimes, the headmasters were allowed to printed their signature next to Fabergè’s.
Carl was devoted to his employees and gave them medical and nutritional benefits parallel with housing; he believed that a happy workers are the best workers.
Once Fabergé’s fame was a must-have for Russian elite, Carl wanted to push the boundaries. He planed to go to the birthplace of Art-Nouveaux, France. This was an intimidating move to the company at an international level, specially on a field the french considered their own. At the Exposition Universelle of 1900, the french went Russian-mad and Febergé was praised to the sky. Carl got invited to join the panel of judges, at the end of the exposition he was given the nation’s highest decoration the Légion d’honneur.
Tsar Nicolas II and his younger brother George V went on The grand tour of the far east (which took ten months). During the trip, Nicolas gave lots of diplomatic gifts; Asia became Fabergé-obsessed but presents were running low, and urgency upon delivery began to rise quickly. In response, flights with new items flew immediately from St. Petersburg to Thailand (which became their most prominent customers).
Continuing his trip, the soon to become Tsar and his brother went to Beijing (China) where inspiration and talent met to create one of the most precious items of all, The lilies of the valley. But Faberge’s fascination with Asia led to the development of a whole new market.
Images: Metropolitan Museum of Art / Bonhams
The women behind Fabergé
Alma Theresia Pihl-Klee was one of the only two female designers and work-masters for the house of Fabergé; Alma was a self-trained designer which started working for Carl in 1909. Her work is distinguished in two masterpieces; first, the Mosaic Easter Egg which has the most complex and detailed work of them all. Second, the Winter Egg which is the most rare and expensive of them all, which now belongs to her majesty queen Elizabeth II.
Images: Find a Grave / Victoriana / Reddit
Fabergé for everyone?
After being the Tsar’s favourite jeweller, Fabergé became a world phenomenon. The name is synonym of luxury, exclusivity, refined taste and high acquisition; back in 1800’s there were no brand-protection laws that prevented other companies to start manufacturing all kinds of products on behalf of the imperial jeweller’s name.
Sam Rubin, an American Russian started a perfume business registered by the name Fabergé Inc. without the family’s permission, reason why Mr. Rubin was taken to court and paid only USD $25,000. Later, the company was sold and merged with a cosmetic company Rayette for USD $26 million, which changed its name from Reyette-Fabergé Inc. to only Fabergé Inc. Three years later was acquired by Elizabeth Arden for USD $700 million; just when we thought capitalism and expansion had overwhelmed the brand, Unilever buys Elizabeth Arden (including Fabergé) for USD $1.55 billion. Now, it truly became just another brand on the CPG world. At the time, Unilever’s name was Lever Brothers Limited but short after the acquisition the name changed to Lever Fabergé Limited.
Thankfully, Fabergé could return to it’s original business thanks to Victor Mayer, whom is considered the company’s founder; bought all the rights, restored its original brand promise and returned Fabergé’s name where it belongs.
To my sister, the person who taught me the real meaning of legacy and the power of kindness.
Yours truly, Monsieur Marketing.
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