At Peter the Great’s command, the new capital of the Russian Empire was founded on the banks of the Neva. The court was to be transferred from Moscow and it moved in all its finery to the new imperial city.
A key part of the court were the royal jewelers, whose aim was to demonstrate the Tsars’ greatness with brilliant gold and precious stones, rather than merely decorate their belongings.
As the decades passed and St. Petersburg grew ever larger and richer, the court became more and more magnificent. Master artisans from all over Europe went there with the hope ‘of getting good luck and titles’. Under the reign of the Empress Elizabeth a diamond store was founded in the city, and was soon attended by the fashionable members of the court.
During the reign of Catherine II, the newly founded institution of ‘Her Imperial Majesty’s Cabinet’ took over the administration of the diamond shop, which was situated in Bolshya Morskaya Street at that time. From then until the end of the Russian Empire the Cabinet dealt with the property affairs of the Imperial House. As the Cabinet’s structure and staff developed, the term ‘the court jeweler’ first appeared.
The family of Carl Faberge, an outstanding jeweler, experienced religious persecution in France and were forced to leave the country. They travelled throughout Europe until, at the beginning of 1840, they settled in the capital of Russia. Thanks to his talent as a jeweler and his organizational skills, Faberge founded a prosperous jewelry firm and gained a distinguished position among local jewelers.
Several decades later, in 1900, at the Paris World Fair, the descendent of this migrant jeweler received the highest honors of the French government, and covered the name of Faberge with unfading glory.
Carl Faberge began the development of the European style of jewelry in the art of shaping precious stones. His creative work was the result of blending eastern and western sources, and was a complex symbiosis of the two cultural traditions. This was a characteristic example of the mature culture of St. Petersburg, where the traditions of Western Europe culture blossomed into unique forms in the Russian soil.
Faberge, following Western European models, was a natural phenomenon in St. Petersburg. Working almost every day in the Hermitage for approximately 20 years, Faberge had the possibility to study the treasures stored in the Jewelry Gallery. Articles of many different styles passed through his hands as he restored, repaired and cleaned them. These included ancient gold jewelry and Chinese, articles made by the German silversmith Dinglinger, mechanical clocks made by the English master clockmaker James Cox, as well as enamel made by jewelers from Paris and Geneva.
As a result of his long studies, Faberge could pattern his work on creating molds, ornaments and the technical methods used by Renaissance, Baroque and Empire masters.
Although Faberge grasped the traditions of the Western European culture, he was also an expert on Russian traditions. He interpreted the color, shapes and décor of his work according to the traditions of the 18th century St. Petersburg masters, rather than the Western European ones. Faberge used a tremendous variety of semiprecious stones, both in his jewelry articles and in small-scale plastic art. This included items used in everyday life, which were not insignificant to his creative work.
The House of Fabergé was founded in St. Petersburg in 1842, and later opened studios in St.Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev, and Odessa. Between 500 and 700 master craftsmen manufactured a wide range of items, from unique pieces made to order for the Russian Royal Family, European monarchs and Eastern rulers, to mass-produced goods (jewelry, silver utensils, clocks, picture frames, cigarette cases) for a wider market.
The peak of the creative work of Carl Fabergé, who headed the family business in 1872, is considered to be the collection of Easter eggs with surprises inside, made to order for the last of the Romanovs – the Emperors Alexander III and Nicholas II.
Very few jewelry pieces made by Fabergé have survived to the present. The most valuable and beautiful of these pieces were sold by the Bolsheviks through the “Antikvariat” (“Antique”) company, which sold Russian valuables on foreign markets, while the rest were mostly destroyed (the large, rare gem stones were taken out of their frames, which were then melted down).
The history of Faberge museum in St. Petersburg goes back to 2004 when Russian businessmen founded a ‘Cultural Heritage’ society and acquired the Faberge collection from heirs of the American media magnate Malcolm Stevenson Forbes. The beautiful Shuvalov Palace on the River Fontanka frames the collection, which has gradually grown to contain fourteen Faberge eggs and more than 4000 items from Faberge’s workshops.
The Fabergé museum's collection in St. Petersburg has nine Fabergé Imperial Easter eggs, the second largest collection of Imperial Easter eggs in the world. The largest, the the collection of the Moscow Kremlin Armory, has only one egg more. The Fabergé museum's collection includes the very first Imperial egg, the “Hen” egg (1.01), created in 1885, which launched the famous Imperial Easter series. It also includes the “Coronation” egg (4.01), which was dedicated to the coronation of Nicholas II and Alexandra Fyodorovna; and, finally, the last Imperial egg – the Order of St. George egg. This egg, made during World War I, was given by Nicholas II to his mother, the Empress Maria Fyodorovna (9.01).
The House of Fabergé created 50 Imperial eggs in total. Each one of them took a year’s worth of work, starting just after Easter and finishing by Holy Week a year later. Carl Fabergé personally delivered each new Easter masterpiece to the Tsar. Each new egg was striking for its novelty, the originality of its composition, and the quality of the craftsmanship used in its creation.
Fabergé created precious Easter gifts both for the Russian Imperial Family and for members of titled families and the world's industrial elite. For example, Fabergé created a luxurious Easter egg clock (10.01) in 1902 for Consuelo, Duchess of Marlborough, who was a representative of the Vanderbilt clan of American tycoons.