Born on May 30, 1846, Peter Carl Fabergé has been called “the greatest craftsman in the age of craftsmen.” A master jeweler, he had a superb knowledge of historical styles and periods, past and present, whether his source was the glory of ancient Greece or the lavish court of Louis XV. An object from the House of Fabergé is invariably a creation of uncommon opulence, making each work instantly recognizable and highly original.
Fabergé was just twenty-six years old in 1872 when he took over his father’s jewelry store in St. Petersburg, Russia. With the help of his brother Agathon, he cultivated the patronage of the Romanov dynasty and the elite of Edwardian society. Fabergé’s studios produced a wide variety of objets d’art, including magnificent jewelry, clocks, cigarette cases, animal sculptures, boxes, and frames. His masterful work in gold, precious gems, lapidary carvings, and enamel made the House of Fabergé justly famous, with the ultimate achievement, of course, being the celebrated series of jeweled Easter eggs (above).
In 1885, Fabergé was named “Supplier by Special Appointment to the Imperial Court” of Czar Alexander III, who ordered the first Imperial Easter egg for his wife Maria Feodorovna that year. The Romanovs, members of the European aristocracy, were connected by marriage to the crowned heads of Europe. Czar Alexander III’s son, Nicholas II, married German Princess Alix von Hesse in November 1894; she became Czarina Alexandra Feodorovna and bore Nicholas five children. For both czars, Fabergé’s workshops made extraordinary objects of fantasy and presentation pieces to give to heads of state, plus finely crafted accessories for the Imperial Family’s private use.
The Romanov’s connections with the European elite made Fabergé an international figure who enjoyed notable support from the Danish and British royal families. Our popular Bee Earrings (left) are based on a jeweled flower study (ca. 1900) in the British Royal Collection that features a diamond-studded bee perched atop a golden buttercup.
In particular, he brought the art of exquisite guilloché enamel to new heights of technical excellence. In his lifetime, Fabergé was considered the world’s greatest master of this time-intensive technique, in which polychrome enamel is layered over circular, straight, or wave patterns engraved on metal. Our best-selling Guilloché Stripes Scarf (below) highlights the lustrous hues of his enamel patterns.
In 2008, The Met added to its collection a group of rare picture frames (an example, below) produced by the House of Fabergé. Each elegant tabletop frame is meticulously crafted and bears decorative finishes and details—such as beading, rosettes, and swags—in gold, silver, silver-gilt, guilloché enamel, ivory, or gemstones. Based on their markings, these precious luxury objects can be attributed to eight workmasters associated with the House of Fabergé in St. Petersburg and Moscow between 1896 and 1917.
Fans of Fabergé can see a rotating selection of exquisite objects from both The Met collection and on loan from the Matilda Geddings Gray Foundation Collection, all on view in the Museum’s European Sculpture and Decorative Arts galleries. Shop our inspired Russian Imperial jewelry and accessories here.