Design & Decoration S03 ep20: Mark Schafer, A la Ville Russie, [New York]

Interview with Mark Schafer

A La Vieille Russie specialises in European and American antique jewellery , gold snuffboxes, and objets de vertu. Goldsmith and jeweller Carl Fabergé was a client, and today we are recognized as international experts on his works. A La Vieille Russie also deals in Russian decorative arts, including silver, porcelain and enamel, as well as Russian paintings and icons. We maintain a strong exhibition schedule, including the seminal 500-piece loan exhibition of Fabergé in 1983. A La Vieille Russie was founded in Kiev, moved to Paris at the time of the Russian Revolution, and ultimately to New York."


We consider ourselves first and foremost antique dealers, specialising in the jewelled arts, the arts
of the goldsmith and the jeweller. We were founded in 1851 however in Kiev, moved to Paris at
the time of the revolution and then to New York based in the same store location opposite Central
Park for 50 years now.

I’m actually a biologist by training but I did study some gemmology and art history as well. I’ve
been doing this now in the gallery for 20 years, but otherwise my whole life since I’ve been
handling objects since I was a child so it feel like I have a good intuitive feel for them.

It’s more and more difficult to find the greatest examples of course like N… maybe and the prices
have gone up. When my grandfather started dealing in Faberge it was relatively new at that time
since there, you know the firm closed at the time of the Revolution and my grandfather started
dealing in Faberge. In the 1920’s already we know a lot of pieces where they’ve been and have a
good understanding of the work of the artists but at that time it was you know it was not desired by
the Russians and was in relatively plentiful supply that has shifted quite a bit, it’s not gone to the
extent of say Rembrandts which are you know extraordinarily rare, more end up in museums and
but as long as pieces end up in private collections you know those have a lifecycle, some cases
they come onto the market, some cases they don’t.

Henry Dunay Jewellery

Faberge has always been a showcase for everything that a jeweller does and any other kind of
antique jewellery whether it’s from Russia or not, I mean you find those skills that Faberge used to
make his pieces but you find the similar techniques have to be used whether it’s gem setting,
enamelling, even whether it’s 18th Century French gold boxes which I also love in order for
Faberge to have achieved what he did, not only did he have to make beautiful objects he had to
make them well.

It was a family business himself but he knew the field very well, he started out as a restorer and he
did restoration for the Hermitage museum’s collection he studied green vaults in Dresden and he
understood taste and how to make something beautifully.

Jeweller’s atelier is you know it’s broken down into you’ve got the stone setters and the stone
cutters and the enamellists and Faberge divided his production into workshops and there was a
work master whose names are usually known who was in charge, responsible for the work of that
of a given workshop and there are certain workshops that got the prime you know commissions
like the Imperial Easter Eggs, but I think they were all you know it was the quality you know the
level was the same.

Henry Dunay Jewellery

People laughed at my grandfather when he tried to you know to get into that business but also there
was a time, I think even as late as the 50’s when we had you know five Faberge Imperial Easter
Eggs you know in the window of the store at one time. Now can’t imagine that you know not only
because of the value but because just the availability.

I always have to remind myself, you know it’s very easy to put a piece, buy it put it on the shelf
and move on to the next item, you don’t always have as much time as one would want to study it.
You know on display here for example we have a Faberge dessert service, knives, forks and spoons
all done in enamel by his great enamellist J… Rookard, it’s a piece we owned 20 years ago, bought
back recently, we know that it’s got Imperial eagles on it and we know that it was from a Danish
noble collection so it was probably gift from Tsar Alexander the III’s wife, box for that piece is a
little different from many of the other Faberge boxes because it included in the lid everywhere that
he had a store, Moscow, St Petersburg, London for a time, Kiev or Odessa is the … fairground
which was a huge merchandise mark, it was a crossroad for all kinds of emergence coming from
all over and he had a place there and but it was for a very limited period of time and this particular
you know set has this name in the box so we know because of that and other features about it, we
can be very precise about how we date it and we can try to imagine you know what the market was
like at that time.

Henry Dunay Jewellery

Some more about the artistry and the design in the old pieces than it is about the stones but stones
can be beautiful too and there’s beautiful contemporary jewellery but it’s the style that’s different
as well, I mean you can get something that’s artistic for reasons other than the gemstones, it’s just
sort of made for a different era and the pieces look different and the stone cuts were different and
diamonds can appear a lot softer, it was cut for different lighting, candles, off gas light instead of
harsh electric light, I don’t know maybe jewellery is going to change as we migrate to CFLs.

Henry Dunay Jewellery

The coincidences can be funny because like I mentioned that dessert service, just prior to that we’d
just bought a set of beautiful enamelled box spoons by Faberge with almost the same provenofs,
totally unrelated but within two months we’d had you know we find two and one helps us learn
about the other, so too I remember when we bought two circular enamel gold mounted Faberge
frames years ago, one in white and one in red, Faberge you know never made two of the exact
pieces but clearly he made the same pieces in different colours sometimes and they both had
Faberge inventory numbers successive you know one after the other so he’d made one in red and
one in white enamel Gioshe enamel, different kinds of Gioshe pattern but so you really get an
insight, just by those coincidences and if you went out to look for those you wouldn’t find it I mean
those might seem light minor examples, but they’re very you know it’s like how did that happen,
why did that happen.

OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Mark Schafer, A la Vielle Russie, New York