Once a symbol of Russian luxury, the House of Fabergé continues to be synonymous with expert craftsmanship and exceptional quality. Rising to acclaim in the late 19th century for their impeccable Imperial Easter eggs, Fabergé is also respected among today’s collectors for their remarkable range of breathtaking jewels and decorative objects.
Gustav Fabergé’s first jewelry shop, which opened in 1842 in Saint Petersburg, Russia, was a modest storefront along one of the city’s more popular shopping streets. His son Carl joined the business in the early 1870s. In addition to training with another designer to hone his skills, Carl also started work as a restorer of luxury and historical objects in the collection of The State Hermitage Museum. It was this restoration work that caught the eye of Czar Alexander III, who was so smitten with Fabergé’s finesse that he dubbed them “the Supplier to the Court of His Imperial Majesty” in 1885.
It was that same year that Fabergé developed its first Easter egg as the Czar’s special commission for the Empress Maria Fedorovna. She too was so taken with the resulting “Hen Egg,” as it became known, that roughly 50 documented eggs were produced over the subsequent Easter seasons. These commissions brought such notoriety to Fabergé that, by the early 20th century, Fabergé had expanded their operation to include both international storefronts and a wider array of products. Boasting a team of approximately 500 employees at their Saint Petersburg hub, Fabergé was far and away the largest house of decorative arts in the nation.
Fabergé in the 20th Century
Much of the 20th century was difficult for the Fabergé house. Ousted from their operations in Russia in the late 1910s due to the rising tensions of World War I, the family fled west and tried to restart the business under the new name of Fabergé et Cie. In 1937 an ambitious American named Sam Rubin stole the name and formed Fabergé, Inc., which specialized in fragrances.
The brand was thus plunged into legal disputes and brand mismanagement that lingered until 2007, when Fabergé Limited regained control of the identity and replaced the trademarks, licensed into the hands of the Fabergé Heritage Council. Since then, the heritage of the 19th-century house of Fabergé has slowly been reestablished, bolstered by a legacy of impeccable antique examples.
Read on to learn about some of the more common Fabergé finds in the market that, while very rarely a bargain, nevertheless exude the opulence for which the design house was once renowned.
The Fabergé Egg
The standing order established by Czar Alexander III for a new Fabergé egg every Easter season came with one stipulation: each year’s edition had to espouse a novel design. Fortunately, creativity was one of Fabergé’s strong suits. From the inaugural Jeweled Hen Egg in 1885 (which featured a smooth ivory enamel finish and opened to reveal a golden egg yolk that in turn held further jeweled surprises) to the Lilies of the Valley egg of 1898 in Art Nouveau style, or the 1911 Bay Tree, which assumes the shape of topiary orange tree, these eggs exuded delicacy and luxury in every detail and still can be found today in a variety of motifs.
Image 1: A fine 18ct gold, enamel, gem-set and south sea pearl Easter egg and surprise, Victor Mayer for Fabergé
Sotheby’s Australia, Sydney, Australia (6 December 2016)
Estimate: AUD 25,000-AUD 30,000
Realized Price: AUD 29,280
Image 2: House of Fabergé Swan Lake Egg Sterling Silver
Antiquorum, Hong Kong, China (22 June 2013)
Realized Price: HKD 131,250
Image 3: George Best Limited Edition Egg, Sarah Fabergé
Bonhams, Chester, United Kingdom (6 November 2013)
Realized Price: £12,500
Image 4: Email-Bergkristall-Diamant-Osterei, Fabergé, Victor Meyer
Koller Auctions, Zurich, Switzerland (2 December 2015)
Estimate: CHF 3,000-CHF 5,000
Realized Price: CHF 6,500
Though Fabergé eggs first drew international attention to the design house, the company’s roots are firmly planted in the jewelry category. Using exceptional gemstones, often combined with richly-colored enameled accents, Fabergé captivated their historic clientele (and continue to captivate collectors today) with forms that balance tradition with contemporary innovation. While different pieces sometimes come up for sale, it is the Fabergé brooch rendered in a diverse array of styles that most frequently appears at auction.
Image 5: Fabergé – A Diamond and Sapphire Set Brooch
Lyon & Turnbull, Edinburgh, United Kingdom (3 June 2015)
Realized Price: £10,625
Image 6: Russian Diamond and Sapphires Brooch
Baltic Auction Group, Tallin, Estonia (23 May 2017)
Realized Price: €11,000
Image 7: A Jeweled Gold-Mounted Nephrite Miniature Egg Pendant, Fabergé, Moscow, 1899-1908
Bonhams, London, United Kingdom (3 June 2015)
Realized Price: £7,500
Image 8: Fabergé – An Art Nouveau Gem-Set ‘Guilloché’ Enamel Brooch/Pendant
Phillips, New York, New York, (17 June 2016)
Realized Price: $8,750
Image 9: Fabergé Sapphire & Diamond Brooch, Holmstrom
Ahlers & Ogletree, Atlanta, Georgia (2 May 2015)
Realized Price: $6,050
Image 10: A Knotted Gold Brooch with Purpurine Pendant, Fabergé, St. Petersburg, 1908-1917
Shapiro Auctions, LLC, New York, New York (29 September 2012)
Realized Price: $5,000
Image 11: An Enamel and Diamond Pendant by Fabergé
Leonard Joel, Melbourne, Australia (15 September 2014)
Estimate: AUD 1,600-AUD 2,000
Realized Price: AUD 3,200
For the stylish desk or mantel, Fabergé also conjured striking clock designs that borrowed from the refined enamel work and inset gems of Fabergé jewels and eggs to create elegant and functional timepieces. Often featuring rich guilloche set against luminous enamel tones, these clocks are as much works of art as they are practical devices.
Image 12: A Guilloché Enamel Silver Desk Clock Marked Fabergé
Christie’s, London, United Kingdom (1 June 2015)
Realized Price: £98,500
Image 13: A Silver-Mounted Guilloche, Enamel Table Clock
Christie’s, New York, New York (11 April 2003)
Realized Price: $22,705
Image 14: A 14ct Gold and Enamel Desk Clock Inset with Diamonds
Crow’s Auction Gallery, Dorking, United Kingdom (5 August 2015)
Realized Price: £7,800
Image 15: Theo Faberge Limited Edition Desk Clock Titled “Tsars” Village Treasure
Maynard’s Fine Art and Antiques, Vancouver, British Columbia (15 December 2016)
Estimate: CAD 1,500-CAD 2,000
Realized Price: CAD 2,706
Snuff Boxes and Other Small Objects
Fabergé’s luxurious touch reached a wide range of objects, from snuff boxes and cigarette cases to walking sticks. These objects, rendered with the same exceptional level of craftsmanship, often bear historically significant provenance. Some were once found in a royal house or bear the portrait of a past noble.
Image 16: Königliche Geschenk-Tabatiere mit der Portraitminiatur Ferdinands I von Bulgarien (Enameled Tabatiere with a Portrait Miniature of Ferdinand I of Bulgaria)
Jeschke Van Vliet, Usedom, Germany (15 August 2015)
Realized Price: €80,000
Image 17: A Silver Gilt and Enamel Cigarette Case Marked Fabergé, workmaster’s mark of August Hollming, St. Petersburg, circa 1910
Christie’s, New York, New York (18 April 2007)
Estimate: $15,000 – $25,000
Realized Price: $66,000
Image 18: Fine and Important Fabergé Gold, Silver, Guilloché Enameled, and Seed Pearl Frame Enclosing a Portrait Miniature
Freeman’s, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (29 January 2014)
Estimate: $30,000 – $50,000
Realized Price: $37,500
Image 19: A Purpurine and Diamond Hatpin, by Fabergé
Christie’s, Amsterdam, Netherlands (23 October 2007)
Realized Price: €13,450
Image 20: Fabergé Antique Russian Guilloche Enamel Cigarette Case 1899-1908
Shapiro Auctions, New York, New York (18 May 2013)
Realized Price: $10,800
Image 21: Carl Fabergé Cigarette Case
Balclis, Barcelona, Spain (25 October 2016)
Realized Price: €6,800
Though the elegant brand of Fabergé is still regaining its footing following years of treachery by vengeful competitors, it will forever have the remarkable examples from its earliest decades as a reminder of the gilded glory of 19th-century Russia. That luxury is still attainable at auction today for the savvy collector who can tell the difference between the Fabergé marks and those of an imitator. Many makers attempted to replicate the Fabergé style, but none could achieve the splendor of the original house’s designs.