Faberge Enamel

Faberge enamel techniques - the powerful and expressiveness tool of Faberge production. Faberge brought the art of enameling to technical perfection. The satisfaction of handling a flawlessly enameled, velvety smooth gold cigarette case, on whose invisible hinge the parts are perfectly aligned to snap tightly shut, was a pleasure shared by the last privileged classes of modern times.

The production of Faberge's enameled 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. Technique of Faberge enamel 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 cloisonne method, in which wires are affixed to the surface of the metal to form compartments (cloisonne) into which the enamel is poured.

The cloisonne enamels sold by Faberge were almost all made by Fodor Ruckert, a Russian-born silversmith of German ancestry. He did not, however, supply Faberge exclusively. Some of his output was handled by other firms such as Ovchinnikov's. Ruckert worked in the Old Russian style, but with a delicacy surpassing that of almost all his contemporaries working in the cloisonne technique. Mention should also be made here of two work masters with the initials A.T., whose marks, or work, should not be confused. One was the Faberge work master Alfred Thielemann, referred to above, who produced small jewelry pieces.

The other was Alexander Tillander, who worked for the firm of Hahn, producing larger objects in the style of Faberge. Note should also be made of the artels. These were cooperatives of jewelers and goldsmiths who marked their wares with their artel numbers (the 3rd Artel, for instance). There were more than thirty of these artels functioning during Faberge's time, and we know that Faberge commissioned work from the First Silver Artel. The Cyrillic mark lCA (lSA in Roman letters) stood for the First Silver, or Serebriannaya, Artel and is found in conjunction with Faberge's mark on large silver objects. Faberge himself did not spend his days behind a silversmith's bench. Rather, he was the guiding inspiration for the entire production. By best estimates, there were about five hundred persons employed by Faberge at the height of the firm's success in the early years of this century. There was, of course, a division of labor in the workshops between designers, enamellers, and so on. Many pieces were therefore a collaborative effort of many talented individuals.

A famous category of Faberge enamel products is Miniature eggs. Faberge enameled miniature eggs about half an inch long were made to be worn on a necklace and are found in an extraordinary variety of enameled colors and designs, frequently set with precious stones. Larger eggs, the size of chicken's eggs, were exquisitely enameled with flowers and foliage.

Faberge enamel also used in frames and clocks (Faberge watches) production which were produced in the neo-classical Louis XVI or Empire styles, and less frequently in the neo-rococo manner. Often rather severe forms were used (for example, circular or rectangular), and the attractive result was attained purely by the expert enameling of the patterned surfaces in translucent colors. Faberge enamel also using in table ornaments. Silver tea sets of heavy gauge silver, richly gilded or sumptuously enameled, could be displayed to great advantage on the sideboard of a rich Moscow merchant.