Treasures of the World
© Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)
◦ Mementos of a Doomed Dynasty
◦ Nicholas and Romanov Russia
◦ Nicholas and Alexandra
◦ The tragic events that followed the coronation of Nicholas II
◦ Bloody Sunday
◦ Signs of revolution
◦ The inventive young Faberge
◦ Faberge's growing fame
◦ The Faberge Imperial Easter eggs featured in the Series
◦ The House of Faberge
◦ The workshops and workmasters
◦ Faberge the man
◦ Outrageous opulence
◦ Fragile remembrances
◦ The fate of the eggs ◦
The House of Faberge
"Once you were one of the approved
suppliers to the Crown, it was a very lucrative source of business,"
says Faberge expert Christopher Forbes. "Every time the Czar went
on a visit or received another head of state, there was an exchange
of gifts. Also Russia was growing as an industrial power, and Faberge
was catering to this whole class of nouveau riche Russians. The Imperial
eggs were his loss leaders to give him the cachet. But the cash was
all coming from these newly minted millionaires in Russia."
Author Geza von Habsburg continues: "And when the Czar and Czarina
traveled, they traveled with suitcases full of Faberge, which were presented
here and there to people in thanks. By 1896, the year of the coronation
of Nicholas II, virtually all the major presents came from Faberge."
But ironically, the man who conceived of and hand-delivered these incredible
pieces had little to do with their actual fabrication. According to
Christopher Forbes: "Faberge was the head of the firm.
He had the best designers, the best goldsmiths, the best jewelers, the
best stonecutters, the best miniaturists all working for him. At the
height of the success of the firm he had over five hundred employees,
four shops in Russia, one shop in London and a catalogue operation.
He provided the taste and the direction, and he was the genius that
got all these artists and artisans to work together to produce these
These men were organized into autonomous workshops under master craftsmen
hand-picked by the Faberge brothers. "The head workmasters were
the key persons in the realm of Faberge," says author Geza Von
Habsburg. "They stood at the apex of the pyramid immediately under
Faberge, and they controlled the entire output of the workshops. The
inventions came from Faberge. These were discussed with the head work
masters, then taken to the design studio."
The process of making the eggs usually took about one year. After the
preliminary period of detailed and meticulous planning, sketches and
models were prepared. Discussions were held among the goldsmiths, silversmiths,
enamellers, jewelers, lapidary workers and stonecutters who would contribute
their talents to the finished creation. Then the parts were farmed out
to the various Faberge workshops.
"Faberge had his mechanisms made in Switzerland, and he had the
portrait miniatures either done by Russians or Germans or Scandinavians,"
adds Forbes. "He used the best available craftsmen from wherever
he could find them to create these objects. But most of the eggs, as
far as we know, were made in the workshops of either Michael Perkhin
or Henry Wigstrom, who was sort of the head craftsman. And they had
whole teams of people working under them."
Faberge refused to be limited by nineteenth century goldsmith techniques.
If methods did not exist to execute his ideas, he required that his
craftsmen invent them. In the field of enameling, they developed and
perfected techniques that far surpassed those of the competition:"Creating
the eggs with the tools that they had, by hand, and making it look as
though it was just some miracle that had occurred, is actually an enormous
feat of technology," explains author Lynette Proler."Faberge
used an extraordinarily complicated enameling process, a technique that
cannot be duplicated, even today.
The House of Faberge actually buried their own documents, and his formulas
and techniques have been lost. They're secreted away someplace, and
we're hoping one day that somebody will find them."
While his competitors used a standard palette of whites, pale blues,
and pink, Faberge took it upon himself to experiment. He created resplendent
yellows, mauves, salmon and all shades of greens Ц over one hundred
forty new colors in all.
"Faberge wrote to his clients saying that everything he produced
was one-of-a-kind, guaranteed," adds Von Habsburg. "Anything
that was unsold at the end of the year Ц this was real salesmanship
at that time Ц would be destroyed. So shopping at Faberge's must have
been the ultimate experience, because everything was unique. This is
the greatest thing about Faberge and the reason I admire him most of
all. He never repeated himself. Imagine producing 150,000 different
objects without repeating yourself!"
Faberge was given carte blanche in creating the Imperial eggs, the
only requirement being that each must be unique and each must contain
a surprise. Concealing his plans Ц even from the Czar Ц Faberge would
spend nearly a year meticulously designing and crafting appropriate
surprises. "And we're told these eggs were, at that time, conversation
pieces. There was no TV and no radio, so people were curious and would
discuss what Faberge was going to be making each year. And even the
Czar would ask, 'What's the surprise going to be in the next running?'
But Faberge would only say, 'Majesty will be satisfied.' So it was the
best-kept secret in St. Petersburg."
When an egg was complete, it was brought to the palace and presented
to the Czar in person by Faberge, while the anxious craftsmen remained
at their workstations, waiting until Faberge returned to assure them
of its safe delivery.