An Introduction to Faberge
by H.C. Bainbridge
How many royal "appointments" Faberge had,
I never inquired. Doubtless all of them. Primarily, of course, he was
Court Jeweller to the Tsars Aleksandr III and Nikolai II.
was a genius on the rampage, always in search of something on which to
vent his creative skill, and on this quest his clients helped him.
Now you cannot give a pearl necklace to a Queen, or a diamond to a Rothschild, or
a ruby to a Greville; they have them all.
This was what set Faberge on his
quest and it was just this which made him supreme. It was all those
beautiful articles of fantasie, those bibelots for the table, which made
his fame the world over. He became the first in Russia to make objects of
elegance, taste and feeling; his work the wide world over became known as
a style of its own, "Faberge".
But not only as a master of style does he deserve a
niche in the pillar of fame; he gave to two new arts, enameling on gold
and silver, and stone- cutting, and he brought them both to the pitch of excellence.
The renaissance of both in the nineteenth and the beginning of
the twentieth centuries was very largely due to him. His cigarette-cases,
enamelled on gold and silver, are incomparable. His flowers, cut in
precious and semi-precious stones, almost transcend nature in their
delicate tracery and beauty of form; and his animals catch every trick and
turn and are cut with a boldness and a verve which make them almost live.
With a catalogue of successes behind him, it was at
the "Exposition Internationale Universelle" in Paris in 1900,
that he was acclaimed Master by the Goldsmiths of France in the capital of
the country from which, 215 years before, his persecuted ancestors had fled.
Here the Empresses Aleksandra Feodorovna and Marie
Feodorovna lent for exhibition all their wonderful collection of Easter
Eggs, given to them by the Emperors Aleksandr III and Nikolai II. These
are perhaps the finest pieces which Faberge ever made; upon them he
lavished every artifice of design, workmanship and mechanism. I say
mechanism, because inside some of them were mechanical devices which would
puzzle the skill of a most expert watchmaker to contrive. Faberge made forty-nine of them in all.
Easter was, as you know, a great time in Russia in
Tsarist days. Everybody kissed everybody else, and said: "Christ is
risen"; receiving in reply the words: "Verily He is risen";
and everybody gave everybody else a present.
Easter Eggs took first place as the age-old symbol of "Resurrection", "New Life"
and "hopefulness". Everything was adapted to the shape of them.
How the first Imperial Easter Egg came to be is a romance in itself.
Faberge was an artist in more ways than one, and his
unique gift was a subtle genius for creating just the right situation
which evoked in his patrons the desire to possess something which, for the
moment, had only taken shape in his mind.
When he proposed to the Emperor
Aleksandr III (the year 1885 is the nearest I can come to a date) that for
the next Easter gift for the Empress he should make an egg with some
surprise inside it, the Tsar was all agog to know what it was to be.
To keep an Emperor on tenterhooks may quite easily prove a dangerous
proceeding, but Faberge kept his secret; and, loving a joke, he produced
what was, to all appearance, an ordinary hen's egg, containing a series of
"surprises" wrought in gold and platinum, precious gems and enamel.
The Tsar was so pleased that he gave Faberge a standing order for
an egg every Easter-tide, and a bargain was struck between Emperor and
Craftsman. The latter was given carte blanche to make whatever took his
fancy, and the former asked no questions; the kernel of the agreement
being that each egg must have some surprise inside.
During the lifetime of Aleksandr III only one egg was made each year, and this the Tsar gave to
the Tsarina Marie Feodorovna. But from the time of the accession of
Nikolai II, two were made each year; one to be given to the Tsarina
Aleksandra Feodorovna and the other to his mother, the Dowager Empress.
The yearly Easter Egg became the great surprise for the Imperial Family.
Today, as the outcome of the original joke, there are in existence
forty-nine Imperial eggs which for ingenuity, craftsmanship and beauty of
design, it is no exaggeration to say, surpass anything of a like nature
which has yet come from a goldsmith's workshop.
It never entered my head that any of these treasures
would ever leave the confines of the Russian Empire where they were
carefully guarded together with the rest of the Romanov Crown Jewels. However, Fate decreed otherwise.
The revolution which shook Russia has
brought about many strange occurrences. During the famine of 1921, a
wealthy young American physician, Armand Hammer, went to Russia as a
volunteer relief worker, and brought out of that country the greatest
private collection of Faberge pieces in existence today.
A connoisseur of art, Dr. Hammer soon saw that some of the superb treasures of a great
dynasty were being swept into oblivion. Along with paintings by great
masters, he collected several hundred pieces of Faberge's finest
creations, such as jewelled flowers, animals fashioned of semi-precious
stones, icons, enamels and a great variety of bibelots.
Through direct negotiations with the government, Dr. Hammer was also able to purchase
eleven of Faberge's priceless Imperial Easter Eggs which were found,
together with the other Crown Jewels, when the Imperial Palaces fell into
the hands of the present government.
Some of these along with others of
the Imperial Eggs loaned by H.M. the Dowager Queen Mary and H.I.H. the
Grand Duchess Xenia were featured in the Imperial Russian Exhibition held
in Belgrave Square, London, in 1935.
Of all the works of Faberge, the Imperial Easter
Eggs are creating the greatest interest today. For all time they are a
monument to his master mind and skill.
For thirty years Mr Bainbridge was the close friend, associate and
"ambassador" in Europe of Carl Faberge, the most famous court
jeweller in history, often referred to as the "Cellini of the
Mr. Bainbridge had the unique experience of meeting and
knowing, as he charmingly phrases it: "...all the kings and all the
queens, all the multi-millionaires, all the mandarins and all the
maharajahs, all the dukes and all the marquises, all the earls, viscounts,
barons and baronets."