Peter Carl Faberge

Portrait of Peter Carl Faberge

Born: St. Petersburg - 30 May 1846
Died: Lausanne, Switzerland - 24 September 1920

Peter Carl Faberge was one of the most famous jewellers in history, best known for the magnificent jewelled Easter eggs that he created for the Russian royal family. He was the eldest son of Gustav Faberge, a Baltic German jeweller of French Huguenot ancestry who moved from Livonia (modern Estonia) to St. Petersburg in 1842 and opened the House of Faberge on Bolshaya Morskaya Ulitsa in the Russian capital.

In 1860, the family moved to Dresden, leaving the business in the hands of a trusted manager while Carl Faberge was groomed to take over the family business. He studied first in Dresden, and then with top goldsmiths in other major European cities, including Josef Friedman in Frankfurt, before returning to St. Petersburg in 1872. During the next decade, while the firm was involved with cataloguing and restoring the Hermitage's jewel collection, the House of Faberge continued to produce jewellery in the heavy French style fashionable at the time.

Faberge jewelry made in St Petersburg, Russia
Faberge jewelry

In 1882, Carl Faberge was named a Master Jeweller and at the Pan-Russian Exhibition in Moscow Tsar Alexander III bought a pair of Faberge cufflinks and personally praised Faberge for his replica of a gold Scythian bracelet from the 4th century BC, kept in the Hermitage, saying that Faberge . Drawing inspiration from the treasures he had seen in museums and private collections throughout Europe, especially the Grunes Gewolbe (Green Vault) in Dresden, from the eclecticism and intricacy of newly fashionable Art Nouveau, and from Russian folk traditions, Faberge had begun to design more and more artistic jewellery and objets d'art.

Alexander III ordered the first Faberge egg (the First Hen Egg) as an Easter gift for his wife, Empress Maria Fyodorovna, in 1885. The egg, made of gold covered with white enamel, opened to reveal a matte yellow gold yolk which contained a gold hen with ruby eyes. The hen in turn had a hinged tale, and inside were a diamond model of the Imperial crown and a ruby pendant that could be worn on a chain. The egg was such a success that the House of Faberge was immediately made "goldsmith by special appointment to the Imperial Court", and each year from then until the October Revolution (except for 1904 and 1905, due to the Russo-Japanese War), Alexander III and then his heir Nicholas II presented an original Faberge egg to the Russian Empress (Nicholas gave one egg to his wife, Alexandra Fyodorovna, and one to his mother). In total, Faberge produced at least 52 eggs for the Imperial family, each designed to a theme, often drawn from notable events in Russia or Romanov anniversaries and celebrations, and each featuring a surprise when opened, often with intricate mechanisms. These were a surprise even to the Emperor himself, as Alexander gave Carl Faberge carte blanche to conceive and design the eggs, and knew nothing until the egg was collected from the jeweller a few days before Christmas. Among the most famous are the Trans-Siberian Egg of 1900 and the vast Moscow Kremlin Egg of 1906, which marked the first visit by Nicholas and Alexandra to Moscow.

Famous Easter-eggs by Faberge in St Petersburg, Russia
Famous Easter-eggs by Faberge

The Imperial Eggs brought the House of Faberge immediate international success. Eggs were presented to Romanov relatives in royal and aristocratic houses throughout Europe, and smaller versions worn as pendants became highly fashionable accessories. The Faberge output was not limited to eggs, however. The company produced all types of jewellery, ornaments and tableware, with branches in Moscow, Kiev, Odessa and London. The House of Faberge became the largest jewellery manufacturer in Russia, producing over 150 000 pieces by the time of the October Revolution.

In 1900, Faberge commissioned the architect Carl Schmidt, son of a German engineer, to design new premises for the company. The Art Nouveau building at 24, Bolshaya Morskaya Ulitsa contained not only the ground floor store, but also the Faberge family's 15-room apartment and the workshops of his craftsmen. The most prominent of these were the Finns Michael Perkhin, Henrik Wigstrom, and August and Albert Holmstrom. For several years, Carl Faberge's main assistant in the designing of jewellery was his younger brother, Agathon Faberge (1862-1895), who had also trained in Dresden.

  • Faberge House on Bolshaya Morskaya Ulitsa in Saint-Petersburg, Russia
    Faberge House on Bolshaya Morskaya Ulitsa
  • Monument to Carl Faberge in front of a jewelry company in St Petersburg, Russia
    Monument to Carl Faberge in front of a jewelry company

The House of Faberge was nationalised in 1918, and Carl Faberge left St. Petersburg on the last diplomatic train to Riga. At the age of 72, Faberge was crushed by the blow to his life and his craft. He died in Lausanne on 24 September 1920.

Since 2013 the lavish 18th century Shuvalov Palace, St. Petersburg has been the home of Museum Faberge and holds the world's largest collection of Faberge eggs.

Monuments: Bust of Faberge on Ploshchad Karla Faberzhe (Carl Faberge Square)

Addresses: House of Faberge (24, Bolshaya Morskaya Ulitsa), Museum Faberge (21, Naberezhnaya Reki Fontanki)