IMAGINE precious metals, translucent enamels and coloured gemstones, brought together by a master goldsmith with breathtaking precision, and you have the very essence of Fabergé. This, however, is only part of its unique magic. The remainder derives from the splendour and romance of the imperial Russian court and a feudal regime that survived well into the 20th century, into the age of the motorcar and the telephone.
The Russian Revolution of 1917 and its tragic consequences for the Romanov dynasty brought Carl Fabergé’sbusiness to an abrupt end, but this was also the start of a perpetually beguiling era of collecting and scholarly research. Even before and certainly since the Russian Revolution of 1917, Fabergé’s work has been a failsafe attraction at the many exhibitions organised under the firm’s name and record-breaking queues have always been the norm. No comparable firm of goldsmiths and jewellers has been subject to the same level of historical scrutiny, inspiring more than 2,000 separate publications—my present offering is the latest contribution to Fabergé’s apparently limitless fame.
The late director of the British Museum, Sir John Pope-Hennessy (1913–94), once said that there is no relationship between a work of art and its value, but there is usually a consensus and, consequently, the very name Fabergé has become a byword for dizzy valuations—some of which have been made by me. The most public of them all was broadcast on an episode of the Antiques Roadshow in 2018, when I confidently valued a uniquely important Fabergé flower study at £1 million.
Bearing all this in mind, one might easily imagine that the best of Fabergé’s work has been flushed out by fame, if not by fortune… but no. What follows is the story of my latest, entirely serendipitous and hugely exciting discovery.
Last year, during a routinevisit to the storerooms of the Royal Pavilion and Museums Trust in Brighton, East Sussex, I passed a cabinet crowded with the reserve collection of English porcelain. By sheer chance, my eye was drawn to the smallest corner of what appeared to be a purple enamel frame, the best part of it completely obscured by conservation tissue paper. The sight of it gave me quite a jolt. Could this be the extremity of a previously unrecorded Fabergé frame or was it simply a worthless pastiche? Yet, as soon as the cabinet was opened and the paper lifted, my hunch was confirmed by the entirety of an important, gold-mounted Fabergé photograph frame in translucent, purple enamel—important enough to imply some sort of royal, if not imperial provenance.
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