Thursday, 7 February 2013

Introduction to Carl Faberge Jewelers

Above, a yellow gold dress watch, the back enameled opalescent oyster with a hint of flame over a wavy sunburst engraving, edged with rose diamonds within opaque white-enameled borders and, at the centre, an embossed dull green gold rosette on a granulated ground.
The value of the work is ten times the value of the material," was the proud battle cry of Monsieur Granchez, the proprietor of Le Petit Dunkerque, the famous jewelry establishment in 18th-century Paris. It is this philosophy which young Faberge brought to St Petersburg where, just over a hundred years later, he found an exactly contrary regime prevailing. From now on, he decreed, it was a question of the precise shade of enamel or fragment of semi-precious stone set within a modest frame of rose diamonds that was paramount, and not the number and weight of large brilliant-diamonds, frequently of questionable colour, which could be crammed into an ill-mounted, clumsy piece of jewelry.

The picture of Carl Faberge, secreted in his private office behind the showroom of the monumental sang de boettf premises he had built for his firm in Morskaya Street in St Petersburg, is one of watchful tranquillity. The famous photograph of him sorting stones, which has been used in endless publications, exactly captures this mood. The impression, however, is a little misleading. He was not merely that quiet, benign figure although, as we are told, he was invariably generous and understanding as a boss. He was something else as well, a revolutionary in the authentic sense of that word.
Above right, a star sapphire pendant set within a diamond border and surmounted by a bow knot.
As is well known, young Carl, when only 24 years old, took on his ailing father's jewelry firm in 1870. He had already acquired an educated sympathy for what we used to call the applied or decorative arts throughout Europe. The appreciation of what he had seen in so many museums and collections had opened his eyes to a rich selection of visual excitements, and his curiosity ranged easily both historically and geographically. The curiosity and flexibility of appreciation were never to desert him and for that we are deeply in his debt. 

He was never far away from the library to which he was continually adding, and his inclination was fundamentally academic, although he proved to be a highly successful man of affairs as well. His father's business had been a modest concern, producing ordinary jewels in an ordinary St Petersburg basement which satisfied an ordinary Russian taste.

Young Carl had made up his mind that, in principle, the value of the object must be judged by its design and craftsmanship and not by the intrinsic worth of its ingredients. In reviving this philosophy at that time in that place, Faberge was a true revolutionary, and the jewels he designed and manufactured were well ahead of what was being produced around, him. He rejected anything he judged unworthy. In this pursuit of excellence he was, of course, being an elitist   inevitably, since any artist worth a second glance falls naturally into this absurdly maligned category.

Above, a gold brooch in the form of a knotted bow of broad ribbon enameled translucent pink over a moiré ground and bordered with rose diamonds set in silver.Faberge, then, was a young revolutionary elitist no bad thing to be! His mission in life was to design confections which would reward their recipients with a frisson of delight when they were unwrapped and handled. They were invariably chic and afforded those fortunate enough to receive them a feeling that, like themselves, these objects were well-bred and impeccably turned out.

Often witty in conception, these objects were consistently well made. Faberge's was not a tiny Renaissance goldsmith's workshop with two or three assistants at the bench rather; it became an elaborate business enterprise with, in all, about 500 employees, designers, craftsmen and salesmen dedicated to the production of luxury accoutrements for the rich.

It is interesting for us today to learn of their working hours: the day started al 7 a.m. and went on until 11 p.m. On Sundays the number of hours was reduced furor 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Below, a pair of yellow gold cufflinks of bombe form, enameled in opalescent tones of apricot to pink on sunray back-grounds, with rose diamond borders and brilliant diamond centers
Discussing the objects designed in St Petersburg, Terence Mulley has pointed out that "The real key as to why Faberge answers a widely felt need lies in the fact that his jewels] are intensely pretty, a word of which, thanks to puritanical aesthetic theories and even what we imagine to be a social conscience, we have become frightened."

Let us put aside our social consciences when examining Faberge's jewelry and al-low ourselves to enjoy charming and stylish artifacts, which were designed simply to give pleasure to the wearer.

His profound understanding of his craft in its many manifestations enabled him to look forward to new horizons, and he espoused interesting new movements with enthusiasm, including Art Nouveau when it was launched in Europe. As he was very much a man of his time. many of the designs he made around 1900 were to serve as models for several of the leading European Houses right up to the present day. 

An articulated brownie carving of a Pagoda by Carl Faberge, the gold cuffs in red translucent enamel and set with rose diamonds, the belt and collar similarly decorated arid each hung with a large rose diamond and oriental pearls. The eyes of the figure are set with cabochon rubies and diamonds and the gold earrings with. Similar rubies and pearls. The tongue is carved from a single ruby. The hands and tongue of the figure are delicately balanced and the slightest movement sets them in rocking motion. The carving is contained within its original fitted holly wood case. St Petersburg, 1903-15. The origin of this chinoiserie figure type is to he found in Meissen porcelain in the mid- I 8th century.Thus in this second sense, too, Faberge was a revolutionary, for he was not satisfied to rest exclusively upon laurels long since won. As Alexander von Solodkoff has reminded us in his 1988 book on Faberge, "there are some jewellery pieces - brooches and pendants - that look as though they were made by Cartier in Paris during the 1920's, although they are in Holmstrom's stock books as early as 1913."

One of Faberge's most significant achievements lay in his ability to allow well-tried techniques to express new forms. His lapidaries were invited to carve stones for jewels in shapes not previously visualized the enamellers adopted a wide range a different manners; and his metal-workers the chasers and engravers, were encourages to employ different colours of gold startlingly new designs. The delight he fell in exploiting the shining dark green beam. of his native jade - Siberian nephrite - well illustrated in many of his amusing designs.

Above all, he never forgot Aristotle' wise dictum that "everything desires certain its own nature" and never allowed the medium to be abused. The most appropriate material was religiously selected the job in hand.

Opposite above, a diamond-set court tiara known as a Kokoshnik fitted in its original holly box. Below, a diadem, convertible to a necklace, of silver and gold set with brilliant and rose diamonds in the form of cyclamen, made in the workshop of Albert Hohilgroin, 1908-17.There is an illuminating parallel to b drawn between the initial success with] which Faberge's products were greetings when they were introduced to an Astor published and delighted Russian aristocracy and the enthusiasm demonstrated by serious collectors today. The jewels designee in St Petersburg was offered to those Russians at a time when they were partite: larky susceptible to just such an injection c glamour and novelty - they were a bore, and disenchanted society. Under Nichols II especially, the Imperial family was living on borrowed time, the Tsarina huddled i her Palace quarters, under the thrall of corrupt and mangy divine. All this was fa removed from any idea of a glittering The Dowager Empress, for her part, lived far more active social life with a great de more ceremony. Nevertheless, the family at least the more percipient among them were apprehensive about the future of the country.

An articulated brownie carving of a Pagoda by Carl Faberge, the gold cuffs in red translucent enamel and set with rose diamonds, the belt and collar similarly decorated arid each hung with a large rose diamond and oriental pearls. The eyes of the figure are set with cabochon rubies and diamonds and the gold earrings with. similar rubies and pearls. The tongue is carved from a single ruby. The hands and tongue of the figure are delicately balanced and the slightest movement sets them in rocking motion. The carving is contained within its original fitted holly wood case. St Petersburg, 1903-15. The origin of this chinoiserie figure type is to he found in Meissen porcelain in the mid- I 8th century.

Below, the Mosaic Egg presented to the Tsarina, Alexandra Feodorovna, by Nicholas 11 on Easter morning 1914. Shown resting on the page of the Faberge record books next to the watercolor drawing by Alma Theresia Pill!, dated 24 July 1913, from which the Imperial Egg derives. Reproduced by Gracious Permission of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
There does exist in these Faberge jewels a feeling of perfectionism, an impression of battles won rather than battles being waged, which somehow suggests a note of despair. It is almost as if they presage, in their minute isolation, the bloody horrors which followed. From a technical point of view, they nevertheless represent an apogee reached by goldsmiths, lapidaries, jewelers and enamellers in the long history of a noble craft.

Reaction in this field, as in others, is historically inevitable. Having been re-stricter in artistic Endeavour by our didac-tic forebears a century ago, we have since that time been conducting ourselves rather like a mob of unruly schoolchildren let loose in a candy store, grabbing and devouring without criticism everything within reach. This has led to an aesthetic permissiveness which is finally even more tedious than the unnecessarily solemn and claustrophobic art sometimes imposed by the Victorians.

Our present attitude in the matter of realism is reflected in our renewed and welcome respect for anything which shows evidence of work well done. Another page of the art historian's handbook of volte-face in taste has been turned yet again!
Top, a group comprising four miniature Easter Eggs, one an amusingly simplified owl carved from purpurine set with tiny brilliant diamond eyes; another in gold enameled with translucent pale green, brown and rose stripes over guilloche culminating, at its base, in a blue agate carved as a heart; and two in platimon set with rose diamonds and one brilliant. A carved gold-mounted turn-of-the-century lapis-lazuli pendant of an abstract design some twenty-five years ahead of its time, and a gold horse-shoe brooch enameled translucent pale blue with a brilliant diamond trefoil. 
One of the hazards attendant upon any proposed effort to produce a useful history of an artist or group of artists who functioned comparatively recently say within two or three generations is the possibility, by no means remote, of vital material turning up after the great effort has been made and laboriously set down and published. This is exactly what has happened on several occasions in the matter of Faberge research during the last few years. 

The sales ledgers of the London branch diligently kept and written from 6 October 1907 to 9 January 1917, every entry dated with the name of the buyer, the description of the object, the inventory or stock number, the selling price in sterling and the cost expressed in rubles, have turned up. The immaculate handwriting, from the year 1908, is that of Henry Bainbridge, a splendid gentleman who perfectly reflected, as London Manager, Carl Faberge's own magnanimity and imagination. It is fascinating, at our end of the century, to delve into these pages and discover who was buying what for whom and when, and for how much.

Among the most required jewels of the Edwardian era was the jabot brooch; necessarily quite small, it served a practical purpose in addition to its intrinsic beauty. This explains the proliferation of what are usually described as "small brooches" by Faberge. They were, in fact, exactly what was wanted when correctly worn.
Centre, a moss agate and rose diamond brooch, a gold hoop ring chequered with translucent pale blue enameled squares and half pearls, an oval cluster brooch set with a cabochon amethyst, rose diamonds and an outer bonier of alexandrite.

Sheets of original jewelry designs, some signed, have turned up at intervals in auction rooms and each one somehow increases our understanding of the sheer scale of this extraordinary St Petersburg enterprise.

In addition, as far as the jewels of Faberge are concerned, perhaps the most important of these recent discoveries are the two noble volumes of drawings and watercolor designs, records of what appears to be the entire output of the chief work master Albert Holmstrom's St Petersburg jewelry workshops from 6 March 1909 until 20 March 1915.

Bottom left, an octagonal panel brooch enameled translucent scarlet over an engraved ground with rose diamond set bow and leaf spray. Centre, a diamond briolet swinging freely in a rose diamond and ruby frame surmounted by a bow-knot. From the collection of a close friend of Carl Faberge, Max °Omar Neuscheller. Right, a diamond-shaped brooch enameled opalescent whit with gold and sapphire and rose diamond decorative motifs.Each item, drawn or painted with the loving and meticulous care characteristic of the spirit of the House, is dated and very often furnished with further details regarding weight of stones used in a particular item, notes of any incidental expenses (such as lapidary work) and the names of clients to whom the jewel was sold or for whom, in many cases, it was designed and made.

Apart from diamonds, which Faberge used in both rose-cut and brilliant form, his workshops popularized the use of coloured stones both precious and semi-precious. The range of materials was thus greatly widened and this in itself encouraged the development of more unusual and original designs. Faberge was so faithful to his dictum concerning the relative importance of craft over materials, that it is in no way surprising to find him attracted to what was called the Mecca stone  in fact a translucent pale blue green chalcedony cut cabochon and artificially stained to impart a rose-colored glow. Mecca stones are sometimes confused with natural moonstones.

Above, cabochon Siberian amethyst and gold brooch by Cntstau Fabera, the father of Carl, who established himself in Bolshaya Morskaya Street, St Petersburg, in 1842. This rare jewel is fitted in its original case.Aquamarines were a great favorite of the House and these stones mined in Russia, with their authentic colour of the sea, are preferred by many, including the present writer, to the unrelenting rasping shade of blue of contemporary examples imported from the Santa Maria Mines in South America.
The gems found in Russia range from the most valuable of all Siberian emeralds are recognized as the finest in the world  to some of the more modest, notably the amethyst from the same region; both were consistently used in Faberge jewelry.

The only stones which the Imperial family were traditionally said to view with a Certain disfavor was rubies, which evidently symbolized for them the shed-ding of innocent Royal blood. It has to be noted, however, that in spite of this alleged caveat we know of numerous Imperial jewels unashamedly glowing with splendid examples of the offending gem.

One finds very few rings signed by Faberge. When one does appear the marks are usually stamped on the outside of the bottom of the shank. These marks have often disappeared either through wear over many years or more simply if the size of the ring had to be altered. A hoop ring enameled and set with pearls is illustrated on page 104; necessarily the marks on this ring were struck on the inside and may be clearly read. The other examples that have been found are generally quite conventional.

 Above right, a pair of blue chalcedony cufflinks mounted in red and yellow golds, enameled opaque white with ribbon ties. The tercentenary of Romanoff rule was commemorated in 1913 and Faberge made a variety of brooches and pendants incorporating carefully enameled models of Peter the Great's sable-trimmed Shapka or Cap of Monmouth to be presented to each of the Grand Duchesses and ladies of the Court. One page of designs, we are told by Henry Bainbridge, was based on drawings made by the Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna herself.

While the House continued to fulfil orders for quantities of conventional items of high quality which were clearly in regular demand, an impressive number of jewels were made which must have seemed extremely avant grade when they first appeared. Perhaps the most enthusiastic and loyal of the collectors of this latter category was Dr Emanuel Nobel, whose Uncle Alfred's name will remain forever green as a result of his prize and his gunpowder. His nephew distinguished himself in a particularly engaging way. 

Right, aquamarine brooch pendant in a broad red gold trellised frame set with brilliant and rose diamonds following the canted contour of the stone. Fitted in its original holly box.Every lady invited to his justly famed dinner parties, when seated, discovered carefully concealed in her table napkin a jewel by Faberge cleverly designed as a piece of rock-crystal set with tiny diamonds depicting frost. These icicle pendants and brooches, so generously and imaginatively offered, must have ensured a thoroughly successful evening.

Another item of adornment supplied by the firm in a bewildering variety of patterns was the belt buckle. The classic model was in silver and enamel, though gold and plain examples are not unknown. Carried out in every possible colour and technique, they were often bordered by chased mounts, sometimes set with rose diamonds or pearls.

Haircombs of tortoiseshell usually set with diamonds provided handsome head ornaments less formal and brilliant than the tiaras which were available at Faberge's for those attending at Court and important parties where they were de rigueur.

The vast bulk of jewelry produced was of course designed for the embellishment of women, whether their coiffed heads, slender necks and ears, shapely bosoms or their slim wrists and fingers; but a small quantity was meant for men. Stick-pins, waistcoat buttons, shirt-studs and sleeve-links were made by the House of Faberge in a wide multiplicity of designs and materials.
Top, a group of jet vets incorporating the use of translucent, opalescent and opaque enamel with diamonds, rubies, amethyst and aquamarines.
Even the "run of the mill" items were always exquisitely designed and made, which is hardly surprising when it is remembered what particular mill they were run from. Many, however, were quite Unconventional - we know of a watercolor sketch for a pair of sleeve-links in the form of small elephants carved from rhodonite, the warm rose-coloured stone mined in Ekaterinberg which the Russians call owlets. The links most often found, however, are composed of translucent enamels combined with gems of colour and rose diamonds.

A stick-pin was an appropriate gift for a member of the Imperial family - for example, to bestow when the need arose for some special recognition of service rendered. The number of Romanoff double-headed eagles carried out in diamonds, often of mixed brilliant- and rose-cut, each one perched on its pin, must be legion.

There is a gentleman's gold dress-watch, enameled and set with rose diamonds, which appears to be the only example by Faberge to have been recorded, but there can be no doubt that a number must have been made for the fashionable man-about-town.

Above, a square openwork brooch in gold. applied with diamond-set Cyrillic initials forming the word POMN1 (Remember) with a conventionalized fleur-de-lis at each corner. Moscow, c. 1880. Centre, a large pear-shaped diamond hanging freely from a diamond and calibr6 ruby frame mounted in gold. Right, shaped oval brooch enameled pale translucent blue over a guilloche sunburst with diamond border and a central diamond motif of crossed torches and leaves.
Finally, it seems reasonable to emphasize that, although the name of Carl Faberge will always be most immediately connected in the public's mind with spectacularly fashioned objects of vertu in precious metals, stones and enamels, the jewelry we have been discussing and which illustrates these notes, designed and put together with the same devoted care for detail, was by no means a merely peripheral activity - it forms a significant spring contributing to the mainstream of Faberge's creativity.

Writer -Thames & Hudson
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