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Faberge a sparkling renaissance

Fabergé, the iconic jewellery house, is undergoing a dramatic change of fortune, as Janet Hart-Da Silva discovers

Janet Hart-Da Silva,

This year marks a turnaround in the fortunes of the house of Fabergé. The Fabergé name is known worldwide and instantly evokes the opulence of its famous jewelled eggs. At the company’s peak in the late 1800s, when it employed 500 craftsmen, the world’s wealthiest flocked to its St Petersburg atelier; after the Russian Revolution, however, Fabergé experienced a steep decline. Now the brand has been reborn and its first collection since 1919 reinterprets the work of its founder, Peter Carl Fabergé.

Fabergé took over the family goldsmith business in 1882 and made his name when Tzar Alexander III commissioned a jewelled Easter egg as a gift for his wife, the Empress Maria Feodorovna. The egg’s intricate design took a year to complete and established the company as a creative force. Other royal clients included the King of Siam and English monarch King Edward VII, alongside rich industrialists and aristocratic families, notably the Rothschilds and the Nobels.

The artistry of Fabergé’s craftsmen transformed everyday objects such as tableware, cigarette cases and walking canes into extraordinary pieces, using precious stones, enamel and intricate gold and silver work. However, during the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks stormed the premises. The company was nationalised in 1918 and the stock was confiscated. Peter Carl Fabergé fled on the last diplomatic train to leave Russia. His dreams shattered, he died two years later in Switzerland.

Two of his sons went on to set up Fabergé Paris in 1924 but the slide in the family fortunes continued. A Russian-American named Samuel Rubin branded his US perfume business as Fabergé Inc without the family’s permission. Unable to afford costly litigation, the family settled out of court in 1951 for only $25k. Rubin sold Fabergé in 1964 for $26m. Corporate America made the most of the Fabergé brand and it went from strength to strength; it was bought by Unilever in 1989 for $1.55bn. The brand name was used to create licences for a number of products worldwide and the company identity moved further and further from its heritage and its heyday at the imperial Russian court.

In 2007, however, the Pallinghurst investment group bought the sleeping giant and is re-establishing the company’s reputation as a high-end jeweller. As Mark Dunhill, CEO of Fabergé, notes, the Geneva store is the first Fabergé boutique to exist outside Russia since 1915, when the former London store on Bond Street closed. ‘After the historic reunion of the Fabergé name with the family in 2007 and the unveiling of the jewellery collection, I can think of no more fitting a next step than the opening of the first new boutique outside Russia in 94 years,’ says Dunhill.

However, clients do not need to travel to Geneva; the Fabergé online flagship is open round the clock, with staff who speak a total of 12 languages. The combination of luxury boutique and up-to-the-minute online signals a new era for this iconic brand, while the revival of the family connection means that the descendants of Peter Carl Fabergé once again have a hand in steering the company. Fabergé would no doubt be pleased to know that two of his great-granddaughters now sit on the board.
Fabergé, rue Pierre Fatio 5, 1204 Geneva, +41 (0)22 707 1100



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