Dr. Geza von Habsburg

Fabergé

Tuesday, November 8th, 2005

It was truly a royal pleasure to welcome Dr. Géza von Habsburg to our very well attended November DCGIA Chapter meeting! One cannot proceed without covering a bit of personal as well as professional history of the author, auction expert, and exhibit curator, and his subject of choice: Fabergé. Géza von Habsburg-Lothringen was born in Budapest, Hungary, a direct descendant of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz-Josef and his wife Empress Elizabeth. He was educated in Switzerland, Italy and Germany and his professional path led him almost immediately toward the artistic treasures of Europe and Russia. His appreciation of beauty and elegance drove him to publish a number of books, among them Fabergé, Court Jeweler of the Tsars. His long list of accomplishments also includes being director of the Christie’s auction house in Geneva. An inborn amount of curiosity and stamina led him to become an expert in Russian history and the merchandise of the famous jeweler Carl Fabergé. Dr. von Habsburg seems to truly enjoy knowing and sharing the small details and the larger story of the creation of the house of Fabergé.

Dr. Géza von Hapsburg speaking

Dr. Géza von Hapsburg speaking

Who better to present this tale of priceless treasures created in the sparkling atmosphere of the pre-Bolshevik revolution, wealthy Russia of long ago?

The Russia of the Romanoff’s, in the late 1800’s, was the wealthiest country in the world. It’s royal family and patrons-of-the-arts created an atmosphere wherein a talented craftsman could reach his peak in creativity and was able to manufacture items made of materials not otherwise available. It is almost impossible to think of the Russian Royal family without also thinking Fabergé! This combination of talent, wealth and timing, which resulted in the creation of objects of breathtaking beauty, can only be called a remarkable and incredibly fortunate coincidence.

Davia and Mercedes have a good laugh

Davia and Mercedes have a good laugh

Sadly, because of the strong anti-Tsar sentiment after the revolution, most of the original priceless jewelry items, owned by the Romanoff family and wealthy Russians were torn apart and sold for their intrinsic value rather than for their provenance and beauty. It is only through finding some rare sketches and production catalogs that the true extend of what was lost can be known. The mystery of where these precious components went, probably re-cut and reworked, leaves us only to wonder..? Most of the items that did survive were gifts that the Royal family had given to their European relatives and had therefore avoided confiscation and destruction.

We had a full house for this important meeting

We had a full house for this important meeting

Gustav Fabergé was born in Germany, a descendant of French Huguenots. He was an immigrant to Russia, where he apprenticed in St. Petersburg. In 1842 he opened his own shop and by 1900 his son, Carl Fabergé (1846- 1920), owned large manufacturing houses in Moscow and St. Petersburg. He had hundreds of employees. These brilliant craftsmen and women created not only jewelry but also intricate items such as picture frames, elaborate boxes, silver bowls and table-wear, clocks and almost anything else one could commission to be made. The Carl Fabergé workshop held a position of unequaled importance for many years. The exquisite enameling work, the use of large numbers of tiny diamonds and the delicate replication of subjects of nature, combined with the use of Russian gems like demantoid garnets and nephrite jade, gave them little competition within Russia. In 1908 however Cartier was also made “Royal Jeweler” and a number of foreign designers, including Boucheron, opened up shops in Moscow thereby creating a more competitive environment.

Lois Berger and Denis Nelson trade stories before the meeting

Lois Berger and Denis Nelson trade stories before the meeting

At the 1898 World’s Fair in Paris, the precious objects in Fabergé’s salon attracted much attention, but the French critics deemed many creations “too old fashioned” for the nouveau-inspired times. Fabergé’s use of bold color combinations and the use of moonstones, star-sapphires, dendritic moss agate and cabochon-cut gems gave his items a rather unique eclectic feel. This characteristic however, along with superb craftsmanship, would prove to be of timeless popularity and appeal.

Dr. Hapsburg receives our gift book from Chapter President Toby Fitzkee

Dr. Hapsburg receives our gift book from Chapter President Toby Fitzkee

Even today Fabergé items are in high demand, and much sought after. Unfortunately this popularity has created a marketplace in which Fabergé copies have become the standard rather than the exception. Adding to the difficulty of identification is the fact that after 1905 hallmarking was not required, and much of what his workshops produced remained unmarked. However, his hallmarks were returned to use years later, when Armand Hammer obtained the marking-stamps and used them to fabricate new Fabergé items outside Russia. Some skilled craftspeople were also exported to continue the manufacturing of finely crafted items elsewhere in the world. Therein lies the difficulty in dating and authenticating these creations, leaving open the question of the actual origin of items of Fabergé styling and ambiance.

As usual the sign-in table is the busiest place at our meetings. The chapter will miss seeing Michele in her roles as she retires from being both Secretary and Treasurer for several years.

As usual the sign-in table is the busiest place at our meetings. The chapter will miss seeing Michele in her roles as she retires from being both Secretary and Treasurer for several years.

Naturally, one could not expect this lecture to end without hearing about some of the approximately 50 famous royal Easter eggs produced for the Tsars and their families. The recent sale of the Forbes collection will actually facilitate exhibiting these items to be enjoyed by a broader general public in the land of their creation and elsewhere.

Chapter members Bobby Mann and Allison Brady

Chapter members Bobby Mann and Allison Brady

Though not a Gemologist, Dr. von Habsburg’s presentation was filled with interesting tidbits such as the fact that Fabergé’s favorite gemstone was pink topaz and that he used amethyst and aquamarine from Siberia. The fine quality of the slide presentation brought the topic to life and allowed everyone to be truly mesmerized by the “most beautiful jewelry of all time!”

Written by Denise Nelson

Photographs by Bill Scherlag

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