Faberge Collection

Faberge collection of Faberge's objects de virtue was highly labor-intensive. For example, many hours of hand-buffing were required to give an enamel object a velvety finish. The technique of enameling is an extremely delicate one involving firing the enamel (a compound of glass and metal oxides) at very high temperatures well over 1000°F. Also, a Faberge enamel object that combined different colors was fired in the kiln more than once, at different temperatures for different colors. The pleasing effect of translucent enamels was obtained by engraving a design on metal using a machine known as a tour a guilloche, then enameling over this design in translucent colors. Using this turning device, a variety of patterns called guilloche patterns could be engraved, the most popular being sunburst and moir? designs. Faberge also perfected the challenging technique known as enameling en rondo bosse-that is, enameling on curved surfaces. An enameling technique which Faberge used only rarely is the champleve method. Using this technique the design is engraved in the metal and the enamel is used to fill the depressions to make a smooth, decorated finish. In a way, the champleve method is the opposite of the cloisonn? method, in which wires are affixed to the surface of the metal to form compartments (cloisonn?) into which the enamel is poured.

Such carefully worked products were not inexpensive. A few years before the World War I, cording to the London sales ledgers, a silver cigarette case cost in the range of €7 to €20 ($34 to $97) and a gold cigarette case €63 to €120 ($306 to $584). In comparison, according to the Baedeker guide of the time, a room at Claridge's or dinner at the Ritz cost about ten shillings. Therefore, it can be seen that a Faberge gold cigarette case cost over one hundred times the price of an a la carte dinner at a top London restaurant or a room for the night at a five-star hotel. (It is interesting to note that current auction prices show today's ratio between Faberge and dinner to be comparable- about 100 to 1.)

Certain pieces of Faberge collection can be documented through the London sales ledgers. For example, we know that on 30 November 1915, a gold and enameled cigarette case was purchased from Faberge in London by Lady Paget for the sum of €195. It was to be a gift to Lady Paget's close friend Queen Alexandra, widow of George V and sister of the Empress Marie Feodorovna. On 16 June 1988 it was again sold, this time at auction by Sotheby's in New York, for the astonishing sum of $154,000 (€86,000). The case is beautifully enameled using the champleve technique in the style of an early nineteenth-century Geneva snuff box. The base is engraved with the crowned monogram A for Alexandra within a border of diamonds.

In the closing years of the last century and the early years of this century, Faberge produced an almost endless array of objects de lux which reproduce Faberge collection: clocks, bell pushes, cigarette cases, scent bottles, parasol handles, Faberge frames, fans, paper knives, gum pots, calendars, thermometers, and even silver-mounted furniture. Faberge did not limit himself to precious metals as a medium for his creativity. He felt free to use such materials as wood, steel, and sandstone, for example, and to choose those materials best suited to his purpose. Faberge's stone carvings of animals were distinguished for their appropriate use of the various available hard stones and for a certain "psychologically interpretive" quality given to them, an accentuation of a typical characteristic, as in a pig's happy, well-fed look, as opposed to a formal, anatomical study. The particular qualities of various hard stones were skillfully utilized to best correspond to the animal being carved: pink chalcedony for the pig, for example, or obsidian for a penguin.