The House of Fabergé is a name synonymous with luxury jewellery.
The company has an outstanding reputation as a producer of fine jewellery, but the 180 years of the company’s history has been nothing less than a rollercoaster ride.
The House of Fabergé is a name synonymous with luxury jewellery. The company, started by the Fabergé family in Russia in the nineteenth century, has an outstanding reputation as a producer of fine jewellery, but the 180 years of the company’s history has been nothing less than a rollercoaster ride of changing ownership and trade, from being nationalized by the Russian government to being a registered trademark for films and toiletries.
The Fabergé family, as the name suggests, is of French origin. The original family name was, in fact, Favri, and in 17th century France, the Favri family was settled in the Picardy region in northern France. The family were Huguenots, or French Protestants, who had enjoyed religious liberty in France until 1685 when their religious liberty was revoked, as the idea of religious diversity did not sit well with the then-king Louis XIV’s autocratic ambitions.
Half a million Huguenots to flee France and move primarily to the Netherlands, England, Switzerland, South Africa and the United States. The Fabri family, however, decided to move east, eventually settling in an area in northeast Germany, near the Polish border. By the early nineteenth-century, a member of the family, Pierre, had settled in the area that is today known as Estonia, working as an artisan. Here, in what was at the time part of the Russian empire, his son Gustav was born in 1814. By 1825, the family’s last name had changed to Faberge. At the age of just 16, in 1830, Gustav moved to Saint Petersburg to do a goldsmith-apprenticeship under master jewellers like Andreas Ferdinand Spiegel. Upon completion of his training in 1841, he was recognized as a “Jewellery master.” The following year was one of the most eventful in Gustav, who now boasted the accentuated last name Fabergé, as he got both married and started his own jewellery firm in a Saint Petersburg basement, called the House of Fabergé. Adding the diacritic unto the name’s final ‘e’ was essentially a marketing strategy on his part, as this would supposedly give his last name a more explicitly French character—an attempt to appeal to the Russian nobility’s Francophilia at the time. Together with his spouse, Charlotte Maria Jungstedt, the daughter of a Danish artist, they would have two sons and a daughter. In 1860, Gustav retired from the family business and the family moved back to Dresden in Germany. He left his company in the hands of a business partner.
Upon turning 18 in 1864, Gustav’s son, Peter Carl, started receiving training from some of the best goldsmiths from across Europe. After concluding his studies, he decided to return to Saint Petersburg, where he worked under his father’s trusted workmaster, Hiskias Perdin, for ten years. When Perdin passed away in 1882, Peter Carl took over running the firm, and shortly thereafter his younger brother Agathon also moved back to Saint Petersburg to join him. The brothers were an absolute sensation at the 1882 Pan-Russian exhibition in Moscow, and it was here that the company really established a profound reputation. It was especially their exact replica of a 4th-century BC gold bangle from the Scythian Treasure, which caught the eye of the Russian tsar Alexander III. The tsar ordered that objects by the House of Fabergé should be displayed in the Hermitage museum in Saint Petersburg as examples of superb contemporary Russian craftsmanship. And so the House of Fabergé and its jewellery caught the attention of the Russian Imperial Court.
During the nineteenth century, Easter was considered to be the most important holiday of the year in Russia. It had been a well-established custom within the Russian royal house for the tsar to give his wife empress jewelled easer eggs as a gift. Considering the Fabergé’s reputation, the tsar’s brother, the grand duke Vladimir Alexandovich, suggested in 1885, that the House of Fabergé produce that year’s Imperial egg. Fabergé consequently produced the first of what would eventually become known as the famous Fabergé egg. Created especially for the Tsarina, it was based on a Danish royal egg from the 18th century, which gad been owned by her aunt and which had infatuated her during her childhood. The whole of Fabergé’s egg was produced from pure gold, coated with a white enamel to make it appear like a real egg. The egg’s two halves are also connected by virtue of a bayonet-style fitting, which opens when twisted. Inside the egg there is a golden “yolk” which then itself twists open to reveal the golden hen inside. The golden hen is itself hinged on the tail feathers which allows it to open and reveal two final surprizes, a gold and diamond replica of the imperial crown and a tiny ruby pendant. While the egg and the hen can still be seen to this day in the Fabergé Museum in Saint Petersburg, the replica of the imperial crown and the tiny ruby pendant are now both lost.
The tsar and tsarina were so impressed by the egg that they made the House of Fabergé their official royal jewellery supplier and from 1885 until 1917 the company produced 52 royal Easter eggs. These imperial eggs, each containing unique surprizes, achieved such fame that Fabergé was also commissioned to produce eggs for the Tartar royal family, the Duchess of Marlborough as well as the Rothchild family. At the start of the 20th century, the company had become Russia’s largest jewellery firm, employing over 500 craftsmen and designers. It also expanded internationally, opening branches as far as London.
However, the Bolshevik revolution of 1918 abolished the Russian monarchy and Bolsheviks wiped out the tsar’s entire family. One of the first policies introduced by the communist government was to nationalize all industries, and, as the House of Fabergé was nationalized, the Peter Carl fled, first for Latvia and thereafter for Germany. Other members of the family escaped to Finland with most of them finally settling in Switzerland, where Carl also died of illness in 1920.
In a bid to acquire more foreign currency, Stalin sold 14 of the Fabergé Eggs to foreign collectors. The British King George V and Queen Mary were huge fans of Fabergé objects and so in 1933, they also purchased three exquisite imperial eggs.
In 1924, Carl’s two sons Alexander and Eugène opened Fabergé & Cie in Paris, where they had a modest success making the types of items that their father retailed years before. To distinguish their pieces from those made in Russia before the Revolution, they used the trademark FABERGÉ, PARIS, whereas the Russian company’s trademark was just FABERGÉ. Fabergé & Cie continued to operate in Paris until 2001.
By 1937, however, the rights to the Fabergé brand name had been sold to the American entrepreneur Samuel Rubin, who used it to market perfume. The brand name would be sold a few more times during the course of the 20th century, and was used to launch clothing lines, hair products and even for film production. Most famously, perhaps, it was the House of Fabergé which came up with the Brut line of men’s grooming and fragrance products in 1964, a brand which at one stage became the world’s best-selling cologne. In 1989, the company was sold for £1 billion to the British consumer goods company Unilever. Unilever registered the Fabergé name as a trademark across a wide range of merchandise internationally and granted licenses to third parties to make and sell products ranging from perfume and toiletries to custom jewellery and spectacles.
In 2001, a company named Lever Fabergé was formed following the merger of two Unilever companies. The new company owned hundreds of cosmetics and household brands including Dove, Impulse, Sure, Lynx, Organics, Domestos, and Surf.
In 2007, Pallinghurst Resources LLP, an investment advisory firm based in London, announced that a Pallinghurst portfolio company had acquired Unilever’s entire global portfolio of trademarks, licenses and associated rights relating to the Fabergé brand name for a mere £25 million. A new company, Fabergé Limited, was consequently registered in the Cayman Islands.
During that same year it was announced that the company intended to reunite the brand with the original family, and the great-granddaughters of Peter Carl Fabergé, Tatiana and Sarah, both jewellers, became the founding members of the Fabergé Heritage Council, a division of Fabergé Limited, which was to offer counsel to the new company. In 2009 it launched its first collection of high jewellery, finally returning to its roots after being out of the luxury jewellery industry as well as being disconnected from the Fabergé family for nearly a century.
Fabergé Limited was sold again in 2013 to the gem mining company Gemfields for shares to the value of £ 60 million, but has continued to operate as a luxury jewellery house to this day. The brand is now once again used exclusively for jewellery items and gem stones. The fact that the House of Fabergé has always, despite a century of complete alienation from its original design, maintained the allure of exclusivity and luxury, is itself a testimony to the brand’s perpetual charm.
But of those original 52 imperial easter eggs created for the tsars Alexander III and his son Nicholas II between 1885 and 1917, the world currently only know the whereabouts of 46, and so, what is perhaps the most intriguing Easter Egg hunt of all time, one which spanned most of the twentieth century, continues to this day.
Paul Russell is co-founder of Luxury Academy London, a multi-national training company with offices in London, Mumbai and Visakhapatnam. Luxury Academy London specialise exclusively in the luxury industry and deliver training in leadership, communication and business etiquette training for companies and private clients across the globe.
Prior to founding Luxury Academy London, Paul worked in senior leadership roles within luxury hospitality. A dynamic trainer and seminar leader, Paul has designed and taught courses, workshops and seminars worldwide on a wide variety of soft skills.