, Salem, MA


June 27, 2013

An empire of luxury

Faberge's fortunes rose and fell with the Russian tsar


Most of the jewelry Faberge created was sold by the Bolsheviks after they murdered the Romanov family during the Russian revolution, but there is no shortage of precious materials or exquisite craftsmanship in this exhibit.

A green jade cup adorned with gold, rubies and sapphire features a handle in the shape of Neptune’s trident.

There is a chess set made of aventurine quartz, which Czar Nicholas II commissioned for one of his generals, a sort of consolation prize when he was defeated by the Japanese; and a small gold column bearing an enamel portrait of the czar that is encircled — and crowned — by gems.

Peter Faberge, the man behind the eggs, inherited his father’s small jewelry business in St. Petersburg in 1872 and within 25 years had transformed it into an international firm.

The items he created and sold in St. Petersburg, which appear in the first gallery of the exhibit, were designed to appeal to the contemporary tastes of that city’s cosmopolitan and international elite.

His Moscow complex, represented by items in the second gallery, produced goods in traditional Russian styles for a more conservative, nationalistic clientele.

Faberge’s success was due in part to the high standards he pursued in workmanship and choice of materials, Lahikainen said, but also to the innovations he introduced, which included collaborative production methods that employed 500 master craftsmen and another 1,000 workers.

He was also an innovator in marketing, pioneering the concept of the collectible and introducing new lines of goods each year, Lahikainen said.

Faberge’s work was rewarded in 1885 when the Romanovs made his firm their official supplier of luxury goods, which allowed him to use their double-headed eagle crest on everything he made.

While this anointed his works with prestige, it also yoked Faberge’s rise and fall to that of the Romanovs, and it may lead some visitors to reflect on the somber story that surrounds all these beautiful creations.

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