Fabergé Five myths about Fabergé
Even today, the Fabergé name is all too often reduced to its myths, or simply to its eggs. There’s nothing like a visit to the source to set the record straight. WorldTempus invites you to Saint Petersburg!
There’s only one Fabergé museum in the world, and it’s in Saint Petersburg. There, thanks to a comprehensive visit, it’s possible to begin to build up a picture of the man and the institution he created. They are both surrounded by countless myths and mysteries which, like so much received wisdom, need to be put in their place.
Myth no. 1: Fabergé made eggs and nothing else
This is the most tenacious myth: the exaggeration of an output that, while certainly exceptional, was in fact completely marginal to the company as a whole. Fabergé made just 50 imperial eggs. The legend was built upon their rarity, but the activity of the house of Fabergé represents much, much more than just eggs. In terms of volume, Fabergé produced an unparalleled number of dinner services (mostly silver), jewellery, accessories (snuff boxes, sewing cases), plates and all manner of ornaments. In total, Fabergé produced several hundred thousand items, compared with just 50 imperial eggs.
Imperial eggs © WorldTempus / Olivier Müller
Myth no. 2: Fabergé is the epitome of luxury
The eggs have tended to skew the global image of Fabergé. And while the company obviously built its reputation on the exceptional designs created for the crowned heads of the world, that was not all it produced. Fabergé quickly diversified into far more accessible goods for the bourgeoisie, such as belt buckles, ash trays and small ornaments. These objects were often made using no more than one or two materials (often rock crystal), and incorporating just one or two applied crafts (usually engraving), which made them more affordable.
tobacco box (émail cloisonné), decorative snail and belt buckle © WorldTempus / Olivier Müller
Myth no. 3: Fabergé was Russian
Fabergé made his fortune in Russia, but his background was far more cosmopolitan. Peter Carl Fabergé’s family moved to Russia from the Baltic region of Germany. His father, Gustav Fabergé, however, was originally from La Bouteille in Picardy, France, from where he emigrated to Germany. His mother, Charlotte Jungstedt, was Danish. The family didn’t move to St Petersburg until four years before Peter Carl was born. He frequented the royal courts of England, Thailand, Sweden and Norway. He died in Lausanne and was buried in Cannes, in France. He was a man of the world!
Myth no. 4: Many eggs are missing
This is false. The unfounded claim was probably intended to inflate the Fabergé legend... and its prices. The house of Fabergé created 50 imperial eggs, just seven of which are unaccounted for today. The Fabergé Museum owns 14 of them, mostly from the collection of the billionaire Mr Forbes, who began acquiring them in 1965.
Peacock tureen, émail cloisonné © WorldTempus / Olivier Müller
Myth no. 5: Fabergé was for aristocrats only
It’s true that the most visible and prestigious pieces designed by Fabergé were originally created for Nicholas II (the last Czar of Russia), his wife, the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, and their court. Nevertheless, much of Fabergé’s output was in the form of diplomatic gifts, given with the intention of promoting Russian art and craftsmanship. But, with the shifting alliances of Europe’s royal families, Fabergé’s creations were quickly scattered, many of them coming up for sale at the beginning of the 20th century. Indeed, the portraits that featured on the original creations were sometimes changed after they passed into different hands.
Rooster egg with an automaton sifting and moving its feathers, and malachite clock © WorldTempus / Olivier Müller