The Royal Jewellers S03 ep2 : Faberge [London]
Interview with Sean Gilbertson
The story of Fabergé is inextricably linked to the lives, loves and tragedy of the last Romanov Tsar Nicholas II and his Empress Alexandra, and to the Russian Revolution that changed the course of world history. Of Huguenot origin, with a febrile imagination, protean talent and entrepreneurial instincts, Peter Carl Fabergé became jeweller and goldsmith to the great Russian Imperial Court, creating exquisite jewels and objects, including the legendary series of lavish and ingenious Imperial Easter Eggs. His worldwide reputation attracted royalty, nobility, tycoons, industrialists and the artistic intelligentsia of Paris, Moscow, St Petersburg and London. In 1917, the Russian Revolution brought a violent end not only to the Romanov dynasty but also to the House of Fabergé. The Bolsheviks seized the Fabergé workshops and their treasures, all production was closed down and Peter Carl Fabergé and his family fled from Russia. In a legal settlement in 1951, the Fabergé family lost the right to produce and market designs under the Fabergé name. Yet, through decades of the 20th century, the noble Fabergé name, separated from the family despite their attempts to honour and perpetuate their legacy, showed an extraordinary resilience. Throughout, the legend has retained its mystique, charisma and awe-inspiring romance, along with a certain enigma tied to the mystery of the whereabouts of many iconic Fabergé works of art. History came full circle in October 2007 when Fabergé, under new ownership and direction, announced the reunification of the Fabergé name with the Fabergé family. This opened a new chapter in the intriguing story of Fabergé, and set the stage for a total revitalisation of the Fabergé name and philosophy, in tune with its original values, aesthetics and spirit. Fabergé was re-launched on the 9th September, 2009, with three Les Fabuleuses de Fabergé High Jewellery Collections - Les Fleurs, Les Fables and Les Fauves de Fabergé. Today, with Katharina Flohr as Creative and Managing Director, and her in-house creative team, Fabergé is forging a fresh yet strong identity. Paying homage to Peter Carl Fabergé’s genius as a visionary artist-jeweller, and benefiting from the expertise and guidance of Tatiana and Sarah Fabergé, his great-grand-daughters, contemporary Fabergé collections are imbued with poetry, artistry and refined ideals of beauty made possible by unrivalled craftsmanship, innovation and ingenuity, all underlined with a strong emotional engagement. Distinguished by Fabergé’s dedication to excellence and pursuit of perfection, the jewels are both linked to Fabergé’s world, yet of the moment and relevant today, demonstrating the modernity that Peter Carl Fabergé was always able to bring to his own eclectic cultural and stylistic references.
Faberge it is the design, the artistry and the craftsmanship at the very top end of the game,
sometimes complex, sometimes a little over the top, and sometimes really tasteful in its simplicity.
Items that last the test of time, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, 100 years, no leathergoods, no items of a short
term or consumable nature.
The egg obviously for Faberge is absolutely iconic and a lot of people immediately make that
association as they naturally would but in Faberge’s work pre-1917, there were approximately
155,000 different items, of which 57 were eggs. So as a percentage the eggs were a tiny fraction of
what Faberge made. And the objects ranged through a wide variety of different product categories.
You had day to day useable objects from cigarette cases to tie pins to hair pins, through to cutlery
sets, canteens, jewellery and with a wide variety of tastes, most of them absolutely spectacular,
many of them beautifully simple and a few of them undoubtedly in some cases will not appeal to
One of the most interesting things for me about Faberge is the way in which they used a concept
that is unique to Faberge, which was the idea of using work masters. So today if you go to
Sotheby’s or Christies auction and you look up a particular Faberge item in the catalogue often,
but not always, you will see a work master attributed to that particular piece. Henrick Webstrong,
Michael Perkin, up to 38 different work masters who are essentially in charge of sometimes
independent workshops which were independently owned of Faberge. Yes Faberge had some of its
own workshops but some of them are totally independently owned and those work masters were
charged with producing specific pieces. Sometimes they worked exclusively for Faberge, but
sometimes they also worked for some of the other houses and today some of those work masters
command a premium, compared with some of the others and that is a concept which today within
Faberge we are still committed to. So we appointed our first work master Mr Frederick Xavier to
Paris in 2009 who helped us do the inaugural collection to great and international acclaim and it is
exactly that hope that in 50 years time when somebody goes to Sotheby’s, Christies or the names
that are prevailing in that day, that you will be able to see the vagabond rouge ring by Faberge
work master Frederick Xavier Paris 2009.
Essentially Faberge is without a shadow of a doubt one of the greatest names ever to exist on
planet earth and when we started looking in to Faberge and saw what had become of the name, we
became totally absorbed by the story. Obviously the Bolshevik Revolution which everybody is
aware of and then the way in which the family lost the rights to the name in 1951 in the legal
settlement which essentially saw the rights to the Faberge name transfer to the United States of
America where they were being used on fragrance and they were stuck in the United States of
America until 2007 when we had the privilege and the pleasure of acquiring all of the international
rights relating to Faberge.
The name is often seen as being Teflon coated despite the fact that a wide variety of unusual and
eclectic products were sold under the name from the Brut fragrance, which came about in the 60’s
with thanks to a gentleman called George Barry who was also an Academy Award winning film
producer, Faberge Productions, it was Glenda Jackson I think in A Touch of Class who got an
Academy Award for a Faberge Productions film through to Faberge Barbie dolls which were
manufactured in limited edition, one of which I am pleased to say I own, I have two yet to collect
to complete my particular suite of the three available colours. But notwithstanding that sort of use,
it still had this magical mystical connotation for almost everyone. It was ask if everybody just
looked straight beyond all of those products and up at what Faberge was pre-1917. And we saw a
remarkable opportunity and also if may say so, a noble duty to history to try and undo some of
what had happened to Faberge.
The principal firm that I work for is called Pallinghurst Resources, which is a natural resources
investment vehicle ostensibly, we invest in colour gemstone mining, in platinum mining and we’re
also involved in the raw materials for the manufacturing of steel. We have one outside of that
scope investment which is Faberge. If there is anything that ties those four platforms together, and
which kind of defines what it is that we try and do, it is the search for unloved forgotten about
areas or assets which other people have overlooked.
We own Interalia the single largest emerald mine in the world and also the single largest amethyst
mine in the world. Both of those sit in Zambia and in both cases we have as a partner the Zambian
government which has been an absolutely wonderful partnership. Today the emerald mine
produces approximately 20% of the world’s emerald supply and it’s been a fascinating experience
working both in Zambia and of course the bulk of our client base is Indian.
My father worked for originally a company called Gencorp, Gencorp eventually became Billiton,
not too long after that Billiton merged with BHP in a transaction which was negotiated between
my father at Billiton and at that time the then CEO of BHP, very intelligent gentleman called Paul
Anderson and that led to the creation of BHP Billiton, which my father left for a brief period of
time before departing Australia and BHP Billiton to go to Russia where he spent some time
working in the aluminium sector there. And having spent about two and a half or three years in
Russia he returned to the UK where we set up Pallinghurst in 2005 and here we are five and a half
In those days obviously bulk of the emerald trade passed through the hands of the DTC and/or
DeBeers and I think in kicking around ideas about how one might market those, he had the insight
that one interesting way in which one could do it was to do it under say the Faberge name. And I
think that idea kind of stuck in the back of his mind and when we set up Pallinghurst in 2005, we
thought that would be a very interesting idea to try and pursue Faberge, which we did, it took two
years, we were successful eventually in acquiring it from Unilever and here we are a few years
hence with the only purpose and vision of putting Faberge back to where it was pre-1917.
Shortly after we did the transaction with Unilever we brought on board a grandson of Peter Karl
Faberge called Theo Faberge, his daughter, Sarah Faberge and then the matriarch as I like to refer
to her of the Faberge family, Tatiana Faberge. Theo passed away a short time after that, Sarah for
example has been working with our direct team here over the course of the last week or two and
Tatiana who recently turned 80 years of age is still outworking me, if we want a frank opinion
about an idea or a new product or an approach we’re trying to take, Madam Faberge calls a spade a
We inherited 11 licence agreements from Unilever which ranged across a wide variety of different
products, some of them were very expensive items, little eggs sold over Easter for $29.95 through
to neck ties, spectacles, we had museum quality reproduction pre-1917 Faberge eggs, some very
good items but also some pretty poor ones. Getting rid of licence agreements is a very, very tricky
operation as anybody who has tried to do so historically will do, will tell you. Of the 11 that we
inherited, only one remains in a relatively short period of time, so we’ve cleaned up the name
tremendously, we have bolstered the trademark portfolio, we’ve acquired additional trademarks
and we have worked quite hard to clean up the circa 500 or 550 different doors internationally that
had been selling the licensed product on behalf of the various licensees.
People have different views in this industry. A lot of it is about selling the dream. A lot of it is
about marketing, advertising, selling a lifestyle and so forth. As an outsider in the industry, and
perhaps this is a naïve view on my part, I disagree with that wholeheartedly. For me, it comes
down to offering the client the best possible product that we can.
Shortly after we acquired the name from Unilever there were all sorts of rumours running around
the industry, you know as to who had acquired Faberge. It ranged from Martians to Russians and I
was lucky enough two or three months later to get a meeting to go and see Tatiana Faberge and I
will never forget approaching her in the lobby of the hotel and clearly seeing the look on her face
as this younger than she was expecting fellow marched up to her and the expression just said, oh
no, here comes another crazed lunatic with a bunch of money making ideas for the Faberge name.
And she had obviously over the 40 or 50 years seen many.
She has subsequently become a big fan of what we’re doing and she’s very proactively involved I
mean many of the products that we have put out today would not have come about had she not
been involved. I can tell you that there are many products that did not see the light of day as a
result of her very instinctive reaction.
Sarah Faberge is based in the United Kingdom, she is the daughter of Theo Faberge who was the
grandson of Peter Karl Faberge and again we work very actively with Sarah, she is in our offices I
central London on a weekly basis. Very talented lady, has done quite a lot of design work
historically and works very closely with our team and between her and our managing and creative
director called Katerina Floor who is absolutely marvellous for what we’re trying to do with
Faberge, we have what I like to call the sort of two power ladies and when the two of them are in a
room, it’s quite a formidable force.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Faberge