Monday, May 9, 2011

The Workmasters of the House of Fabergé

I have often been asked if Theo Fabergé personally made all the items created under his signature.  The answer is "No, he did not do every piece."  Theo crafted all of the wooden eggs in the early days, often with his daughter Sarah assisting by adding vermeil trim to the objet d'art.  As Theo's health began to fail as he approached 80 years of age, he turned over his beloved restored Holtzapfel lathe used for the wooden eggs to an expert who worked under Theo's supervision.  When using other materials, eggs were designed by Theo down to the smallest detail and then given to specialists -- in lapidary, jeweling, crystal engraving and enameling to name a few -- to be completed.  This was done since the launch of the St. Petersburg Collection in 1985 and continues today in keeping Theo's vision alive in executing his posthumous portfolio of designs.

Theo Faberge

Actually, the system used by Theo was exactly that employed by his grandfather Carl at the House of Fabergé.  Many Fabergé enthusiaists are familiar with the term "workmaster" and the names Perkhin and Wigstrom are well-known.  However, there may have been nearly 40 workmasters, dating from the time when Carl's father Gustav founded the business.  These men often had their own independent workshops that produced solely for the House of Fabergé, while some worked directly for the company.  Others began as independents and later joined the business.  

 Both Theo and Carl  were recognized for their achievements as highly accomplished craftsmen.  Carl received the status of Master Goldsmith in 1882 in St. Petersburg.  Just short of 100 years later, his grandson Theo in 1978 was awarded the Lady Gertrude Crawford medal,  Britain's highest honor for ornamental turning, for his Queen's Silver Jubilee Ivory Casket..   That same year he was elected as a Freeman Prizeman of the Worshipful Company of Turners, an award that had not been given out since 1956 by this organization which dates back to the old guilds of England.  In 1979, Theo's work was accepted for exhibition by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths at Goldsmith's Hall in London.  So both grandfather and grandson were recognized for their skill  in their own right; yet each knew in order to craft the pieces demanded by their clientele that they must engaged equally talented artisans for their respective workshops.

Next post I'll introduce the most notable workmasters of the Romanov era.

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