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Faberge: A Tradition Comes Out of Its Shell

November 27, 1987|PAUL DEAN | Times Staff Writer

Theo Faberge, grandson of that Carl Faberge, is in Beverly Hills today to coddle introduction of a new generation of Faberge eggs.

The gentle Englishman will also be walking on a few eggshells.

"I can't call my company Faberge Ltd. or refer to 'Faberge Eggs' because that name is protected by the perfume people," he said. "In England, when you say Faberge, it means perfume, not eggs."

Ironic, but true. Faberge was a name borrowed in 1938 by New York businessman Samuel Rubin, a canny Russian emigre in search of an established bouquet for his new cosmetic firm. Corporate built, as it were, by association.

Fifty years later--after belated litigation and a 1951 payment of $25,000 to remnants of a Faberge family concern in France--the cosmetic company retains legal rights to the name, but not the manufacture of jeweled eggs. Faberge remains stuck on Aquanet and Brut and Babe.

"But I can legally sell the eggs under my own name," Faberge said from his home at Hastings on England's south coast. "They are being marketed in the United States as 'The St. Petersburg Collection by Theo Faberge.' "

On a more personal level, Faberge doesn't mind being welcomed to California as a chip of the old shell--but not as some lesser artiste playing off the acknowledged artistry of grandfather Carl.

"I am not trying to trade on the name," he insisted. "I'm trying to make my work stand on its own by originality, by quality and care of workmanship."

Then why ovarian art? Why not enameled pineapples?

Just for Friends

"I was trapped into it," he said. "I was making caskets (boxes) with jewels and exotic woods. Trinket boxes. Cigarette boxes. Then a woman asked me to do an egg for a birthday party and I made one from a 900-year-old piece of yew wood. It was a solid egg, about 2 1/2 inches high and embellished with gilded brass."

The birthday gift did not lay an egg. So Faberge made several more for friends. He crafted one for a jury of his peers and it was approved. "And I thought to myself that if Goldsmith's Hall would accept it, then it must be worthy of the name of Faberge.

"I knew then I had skill . . . but whether or not I was worthy enough to emulate my grandfather remained to be seen."

Whether he has, or does, goes on public view today at Geary's of Beverly Hills. The St. Petersburg Collection is a series of eight eggs taking their designs from the Bible, mythology and the seasons. Each design will be limited to 750 numbered, signed and largely hand-crafted eggs and, said Bruce Meyer, president of Geary's, none is a drumbeat from the past.

"These are different," he explained. "I'm just not sure the talent is available today to re-create a Faberge egg. What we have here is today's talent, today's design, today's meticulous interpretations of a traditional art form."

No Confusion

Christmas shoppers, of course, face no confusion between this St. Petersburg Collection made in England and the original eggs made in St. Petersburg.

Eggs by Theo Faberge sell from $650 to $2,000.

An egg by Carl Faberge sold in 1986 for $1.9 million.

"But there is no comparison," Faberge noted. "I'm not in my grandfather's class of design. His were golden eggs smothered with jewels and made by very many craftsmen."

Carl Gustavovich Faberge, the son of a jeweler, inherited the family business in 1870. His talent was supported by other master craftsmen heading a work force of 500 and workshops in Russia and London.

Gold, silver, malachite, jade, lapis lazuli and gems were their materiel. Flowers, picture frames, ornate boxes, figure groups, bibelots and animals were their products. Their customers included European royalty--and then Emperor Alexander III of Russia.

For Alexander, and successor Czar Nicholas II, came the celebrated imperial Easter eggs. The Rosebud Egg. The Cuckoo Egg. All laced with gold and gems. Fifty-four eggs in all.

Carl Faberge died in exile in Switzerland in 1920, a few months after the Bolshevik Revolution canceled his genius and scattered his family of four sons.

In the years since, publisher Malcolm Forbes has collected a lucky 13 Imperial eggs. The Kremlin has 10. A private museum in Washington has three. There are two in New Orleans. Queen Elizabeth II has a pair.

Re-Inventing the Egg

Now Theo Faberge, son of Nicholas Faberge who ended his professional life in England as a photographer, is re-inventing the egg. And making them cheaper by the several hundred dozen.

Top of his line is the Four Seasons Egg and the Winter Egg. Winter (at a cool $1,850) is blown from clear and cobalt-blue crystal topped by the Imperial crown of Russia and containing a music box. Four Seasons (a year's savings for some at $2,000) is hand-painted enamel panels on lead crystal trimmed in 23K gold.

The budget eggs are made from bubinga wood from Central Asia and cocabolo wood from South America and engine-turned on a Holtzapffel lathe, a 19th-Century tool rebuilt by Theo Faberge to add a tad more tradition to the product.

The eggs and he were a long time getting together.

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