Fabergé Unveils its First Jewellery
Collection in 90 Years

Fabergé unveils its first jewellery collection in 90 years

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The opulent jewellers Fabergé fell foul of the Russian Revolution, then languished in the hands of unsympathetic corporations. Now a new team, in concert with descendants of the company’s founder, is reviving its original spirit.

Last year, on a pilgrimage to a once grand and elegant (and now grandly derelict) summer house that had belonged to Peter Carl Fabergé, Katharina Flohr, the newly appointed creative director of the great Russian luxury goods brand Fabergé, found a four-leaf clover. She was there with Tatiana Fabergé, the 79-year-old great-granddaughter of Peter Carl Fabergé, and Frédéric Zaavy, the artisan jeweller who had agreed to work with her to revive the Fabergé name in the spirit in which it was originally created – as a fine jewellery house and purveyor of the most exquisitely crafted gems. On those long white nights, the three were on a mission.

‘We were at Tatiana’s family’s country house outside St Petersburg,’ Flohr says. ‘It is a rundown estate which is so morbidly beautiful but completely destroyed; here we were with Tatiana, very courageously going through the broken beams and the loose staircases. And I found a four-leaf clover.’ It was a good omen.

‘Tatiana introduced us to museum curators, and took us to her old family country seat; we went to the ballet, she took us to exhibitions, we went on river-boat cruises at midnight,’ Flohr recalls over a cup of violet tea and a rose macaroon at the Parisian tea house Ladurée. ‘We went to the Hermitage, to all the palaces, and saw a cross-section of things that were relevant for Tatiana personally and for Fabergé’s past. Frédéric said the best bit was dancing with Tatiana – we went to a restaurant where they were playing Soviet-style dance music.’

Flohr had worked in the late 1990s as the fashion director of Russian Vogue (she later became the jewellery editor at Tatler in London),and Zaavy was a collector of Russian art. The trip was an opportunity to connect with the old world of Fabergé and work out exactly what the new Fabergé should be. This is the first time fine jewellery has been made under the Fabergé name since the house was forced to close in 1917. The brand has undergone many reinventions over the years, most recently losing its way under the auspices of Unilever. But now, gone are the trinkets, the eggs (though they may be given a new lease of life in the future), the tacky licences and the dreadful aftershaves. In their place is a quest to rediscover the heart and soul of one of the most famous – and romantic –names in art and design. Most of the original jewellery pieces were destroyed during the Russian Revolution. Thereis no archive, so Flohr went to Sotheby’s and Christie’s and managed to find some pieces –such as the famous cigarette cases – to look at and touch. ‘Everything was so beautifully executed and perfectly made that first and foremost I came back and said it is all about the way things are made – it’s about the craft and the art of making jewellery.’

Flohr met Frédéric Zaavy while she was still working at Tatler, and knew within seconds that his work was unique. When Tatiana Fabergé (the head of the heritage council appointed two years ago to look after the Fabergé legacy with her distant cousin Sarah Fabergé and the Fabergé specialist John Andrew) also mentioned his name it was, according to Flohr, a eureka moment. ‘He has this painstaking attention to detail,’ Flohr says. ‘He is such a romantic and he sees jewels in a very poetic way. The way he applies the stones is very much the way a painter applies brushstrokes to a painting. Every stone is there for a reason and is colour-coordinated with the one next to it, and everything is put together like a mosaic – a kaleidoscope of colours. That perfect workmanship would symbolise what Fabergé was going to be about.’

Zaavy has his own atelier in Paris, where he already had a loyal clientele, and it was only the Fabergé name that sparked his interest in working for a company. He describes his work as a painter would: ‘When you look at a painter in pointillism or impressionism, every singlemillimetre of colour is super-important,’ he tells me. ‘Every single dot of his palette is very important; it is what we are trying to do as well, so it is about the importance in colouration, in vibration and in rhythm on a piece.’

He begins with a drawing and, with his team of 15, works on about 20 pieces at a time. Every piece has its own story, its own life. Some of the animal characters, like the wonderfully intricate fairytale seahorse brooch, have charming, whimsical faces. Flohr likens them to Disney characters in their loveability. Zaavy might not make the same comparison, but says, ‘These pieces are definitely characters and that is why people say they have a lot of substance, that they have something to say, that they glow on people. I would even say each piece has a life, they are individuals, they are stories. Stones are there always but you have to draw the character of that person, or the soul.’

Since starting work last year, Zaavy has produced about 100 pieces, which range in price from £40,000 to several million. Fabergé, which has been bought from Unilever by the British private equity firm Pallinghurst Resources, with the former Dunhill president Mark Dunhill as the CEO, has also developed a cost-effective and thoroughly modern way of selling its exquisite treasures. There is a single shop, which has just opened in Geneva, but the real store front is a virtual one. Customers are invited to go online and key in their password to be presented with a selection of pieces they might be interested in. If they are, they can email a personal assistant, who will chat with them online, find out what sort of pieces they are looking for, and – if you are seriously in the market – will fly to you anywhere in the world, to your penthouse, your palace or your yacht, to show you the pieces in the flesh. As I was sipping tea with Flohr, a salesperson was on a plane bound for Hong Kong with a case of jewels to show to a prospective buyer. It is the ultimate in personal service.

‘Frédéric is an artist jeweller,’ Flohr says. ‘And it is about bringing that artistic impression into jewellery. That is what makes the difference, and I think someone may want to buy a piece because they want to collect it as much as they want to wear it and show it off to their friends. But first and foremost because it is so beautifully made, each piece is an individual miniature work of art. It’s a very intimate moment.’

The pieces have a magic about them – they have an organic feel and look that is quite unique. The four-leaf clover Flohr found in St Petersburg has evolved into the exquisite Clover ring which is smothered in bright green demantoid garnets, with the leaves edged in white diamonds. It is part of the collection with the theme of flowers (a recurring motif for the original Fabergé workshops; flowers were a luxury in Russia in the 1800s). There are two collections: Fables (which taps into Russian folklore, with mythological creatures such as the firebird, and the seahorse from the story of Sadko, the Bard), and the Fauves, inspired by the early- 20th-century Fauvist movement in art, with its links with the Ballets Russes, Diaghilev, and the set and costume designer Leon Bakst. Some of these pieces, like the incredible ruby-and-sapphire-encrusted Emotion rings, look as if they have come out of the earth, like molten lava that has cooled and wrapped itself around your finger. The stones themselves – many of which, like the hand-carved purple jasper, or the demantoids and alexandrites, are from the Ural mountains – really do almost vibrate with intensity.‘

Frédéric has that sense of urban romanticism,’ Flohr says. ‘Some of the pieces are just beautifully sculptural and others are so contemporary and glam that you don’t need a ballgown, you can wear a simple black dress or you can wear jeans.’

The Telegraph
25 November, 2009