Gustav Fabergé founded the jewellery firm of Fabergé in 1842 in the old capital of St Petersburg. After the closure of the business in 1917 Carl Fabergé went overseas and his grandson Theo Fabergé was born in London in 1922.
The Fabergé family is French by origin. Their home had been the village of La Bouteille in the Picardy region of North Eastern France. They were Huguenots in a predominantly Roman Catholic country. In 1685 King Louis XIV of France revoked the Edict of Nantes and they lost religious freedom and civil liberty.
In the years subsequent to 1685 a quarter of a million French Huguenots fled their country to settle in England the Netherlands the fledgling United States and Russia.
The Fabergés went first to Schwedt-an-der-Oder in Eastern Germany. Then in 1800 to Pernau in the Russian Baltic province of Livonia – today part of Estonia.
During the previous 100 years the influence of Czar Peter the Great and his cosmopolitan experience had made Russia an attractive country for craftsmen. Catherine the Great’s creation of her Winter Palace in St Petersburg on the banks of the Neva absorbed artistic creations from the entire civilised world; and Catherine’s reign had also seen religious tolerance enshrined in Russian law. The language of the Imperial court was French. This fortunate conjuncture results in the arrival of Gustav Fabry born in 1814 in the Russian capital city of St Petersburg.
Gustav’s father Peter had been a goldsmith practising his craft in Wurtemburg under the patronage of Catherine the Great. Gustav was apprenticed to Andreas Ferdinand Spiegel. After the apprenticeship he joined the firm of Keibel celebrated for reworking the Imperial Russian Crown Jewels in 1826. In 1841 Gustav is recorded as ‘Master Goldsmith’. The following year he opens the first Fabergé shop in Bolshaya Morskaya Street St Petersburg. The same year he marries Charlotte Jungstedt daughter of a Danish artist. Four years later in 1846 the couple’s first child is born; Peter Carl Fabergé.
Peter Carl went to school at the fashionable Gymnasium of St Anne’s. His brother Agathon was born in 1862 with a gap of 16 years between the two boys. Agathon’s birth followed closely Gustav’s retirement at the age of 46; he went to live in Dresden leaving the family firm in the hands of two managers and in the confident expectation of his elder son’s interest.
Carl had attended a business school in Dresden and had been apprenticed to a jeweller in Frankfurt. He had travelled to Italy and to Paris and to England – the latter largely for commercial purposes and to learn some of the language. He returned to live in St Petersburg and took over the running of the House of Fabergé in 1870 at the age of 24. Brother Agathon joined the firm in 1882 aged 20.
As the family firm prospered Carl opened a branch in Russia’s second city – Moscow. Three English brothers; Allan Arthur and Charles Bowe managed the Moscow branch. Carl’s father Gustav died in 1893. Then Carl’s brother Agathon died aged 33 in 1895. But the firm of Fabergé continued to prosper. The first Imperial Egg given in 1885 as an Easter gift from Czar Alexander III to his wife had created a tradition which made the Fabergé name legendary. Just 50 Imperial Easter Eggs were created.
Important among many other landmarks was the custom of the Duchess of Marlborough in 1901/2. Arthur Bowe was relocated from the Moscow branch to open a branch in London in 1904.
When the partnership with Bowe ended Carl sent his youngest son Nicolas to join Henry Bainbridge (an acquaintance of Bowe’s uncle) in opening the first branch at 48 Dover Street Mayfair in 1906. Subsequently moved to Bond Street all Fabergé trade outside Russia was channelled through the England branch. It closed in 1915 when the Tsar ordered his people to repatriate all capital held outside Russia to assist the War effort.
The Russian parent company was taken over by a revolutionary committee in 1917; and in the same year the final stock items in England were sold off.
Peter Carl with the help of the British Embassy escaped from Russia and via Riga Berlin Frankfurt Hamburg and Wiesbaden finally reached Lausanne in Switzerland. Here he settled at the Bellevue Hotel with his wife who had escaped separately in the company of her eldest son Eugene. Carl died on 24 September 1920; Augusta his wife survived until 27 January 1925.
Carl’s first and third sons Eugène and Alexander moved to France in 1924. Eugène died childless in 1960.
By his first marriage Alexander had a son also named Alexander; he pursued a distinguished career as a geneticist and died childless in 1988.
Carl’s second son Agathon settled in Finland and studied philately. Agathon’s first wife settled in Switzerland ; she had a guest house and later a chicken farm and two of her sons emigrated to Brazil. Agathon’s third son worked for his uncles in Paris and then returned to work for the jeweller Lombarde of Geneva; he died in 1982 leaving a daughter Tatiana born in 1930 and unmarried. The fourth son Igor died childless in 1982. The fifth son Rurik died childless in around 1978.
Nicolas Fabergé Carl’s fourth surviving son was in England at the time of the Revolution in Russia ; and he stayed in England. He established himself as a photographer. Married to Marion Tattershall who bore no children he also had a relationship with his photographic model Dorise Claddish whom he had met when they worked together at the Bond Street branch of Fabergé. Doris and Nicolas Fabergé had a son Theo christened and named Theo Fabergé by his father in 1922.
Because he was born out of wedlock to his young mother, Theo was brought up by his married aunt. He did not know his true origin nor his name but was never adopted. He served in the Royal Air Force principally in Egypt in World War II. Establishing himself in business it was only in 1961 that he discovered his true identity.
He sold his manufacturing company and furthered his existing interest in craftsmanship and objets d’art – as early as the 1950’s years before he knew he was a Fabergé he had begun to design and make elegant objets d’art from rare wood and ivory – witness for example his exquisite Beech Candlesticks 1952. He assisted in the foundation of the St PETERSBURG COLLECTION in 1985. He used the name Theo Fabergé with which he had been christened.
Theo soon began to receive commissions from notable collectors of Carl Fabergé and from museums such as the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts U.S.A. The Collection is now shown in major outlets throughout the world. Eminent museums such as the State Hermitage Museum the San Diego Fine Arts Museum and the St Petersburg City Museum have catalogued Theo Fabergé‘s creations within their collections. Each creation is a Limited Edition of as little as 6 pieces worldwide.
Tatiana Fabergé Theo’s second cousin wrote in her preface to the first edition book ‘Theo Fabergé and the St Petersburg Collection’: – “His story has all the ingredients of a good novel but it is a true account as opposed to fiction”
The tercentenary year of the foundation of St Petersburg by Peter the Great provided the opportunity and vehicle for Theo Fabergé’s return to the city of his forefather. As Russia increasingly turned its eyes once again to the West and as the world becomes ever more open to travel and the exchange of ideas St Petersburg became aware of the contemporary St Petersburg Collection.
At the same time Theo’s fans and collectors gathered in the city for their 12th annual Places and Gems tour. They witnessed the presentation of Theo’s Tercentenary egg commissioned by the Peterhof Palace.
In spring 2004 a new Gallery was dedicated to the works of Theo Fabergé at 40 Suvarovsky Prospect. After 86 years St Petersburg once again hosted the most famous jewellery family in the world.
Theo Fabergé worked on a variety of commissions including many for charity. In 1999 Theo was commissioned to create the White House Egg for the United States President in celebration of 200 years of the building of the White House the sales proceeds going to charities throughout America. Father Flanagan’s Boys’ Town commissioned the Brotherhood Egg. HRH Princess Alexandra received Theo’s Presentation Golden Egg in aid of the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. HRH Prince Andrew Duke of York came aboard the vessel Shtandart in 1999 when it arrived in the Pool of London bearing the oak for Theo’s Shtandart Egg in support of a programme whereby disadvantaged young people are trained in shipbuilding skills. Trudi Styler’s Rainforest Trust benefited from Theo’s Tropical Egg design. The Duke and Duchess of York commissioned the Hole in One Egg in aid of Children in Crisis. Theo’s Alexander Palace Egg established a fund for the restoration of the wonderful building in St Petersburg ’s Tsarkeyo Selo. In 2003 Theo was commissioned by the Royal Air Force to produce the Milestones of Flight commemorative piece for the centenary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight by the Royal Air Force at its new museum building in Hendon. Theo designed the Trafalgar Egg for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution commemorating the 200th anniversary of Nelson’s great victory.
Following their departure from Russia after the Revolution the Fabergé family was scattered and had lost control of its business. The American oil billionaire Armand Hammer collected many Fabergé pieces during his business ventures in communist Russia in the 1920’s. Konstantin Akinsha writing in Art News June 2004 says; “Hammer had been fortunate: in Moscow he had received not only imperial Easter eggs and other objects but the stamps of the company with which every object made in the workshop had been marked. Thus he was equipped to produce Fabergé forgeries in America. ”
“In 1937 Hammer’s friend Samuel Rubin owner of the Spanish Trading Corporation which imported soap and olive oil closed down his company because of the Spanish civil war and established a new enterprise to manufacture perfumes and toiletries. He registered it at Hammer’s suggestion as ‘Fabergé Inc’”
Eugene and Alexander two Fabergé sons who lived in Paris and ran a small workshop called Fabergé et Cie learned about the existence of Rubin’s company only after the end of World War 11 but their attempts to sue Rubin were unsuccessful. According to documents in the Fabergé private archive which is in the care of Tatiana Fabergé the artists’ great-grand-daughter and research by Skurlov Eugene and Alexander didn’t have the money to hire American lawyers and agreed to a settlement proposed by Rubin who paid them $25 000 for the right to use the name. Rubin later sold his company to Unilever which now distributes the right to use the name of the jeweler to the czars.
Theo Fabergé was the last grandson of Carl Fabergé. Theo Fabergé designed exclusively for the St Petersburg Collection. His products are © St Petersburg Collection.
The sponsor mark ‘TF’ is registered to record the work of Theo Fabergé in precious metal. This continues the tradition whereby Carl Fabergé’s hallmark ‘CF’ was first registered in London in 1911.
Theo Fabergé passed away peacefully on 27 August 2007 in his 85th year.
All designs and creations by Theo Fabergé for the St Petersburg Collection are © copyright St Petersburg Collection 1984-2010
The complete history of Faberge is emcompassed in our St Petersburg Collection book entitled Theo Faberge and the St Petersburg Collection. This book is not available in book stores but is available wherever the Collection is available.