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Peter Carl Faberge, who didn't craft a single egg, gets a Google doodle

May 30, 2012|By Amy Hubbard
  • Peter Carl Faberge is the recipient today of a Google doodle. In 2007, a work from the House of Faberge broke records by selling for $18.5 million at auction.
Peter Carl Faberge is the recipient today of a Google doodle. In 2007, a work… (Andy Rain / European Pressphoto…)

Peter Carl Fabergé, Google doodle recipient, lived a Humpty Dumpty kind of life -- specializing in the delicate and ending with a great fall. 

The master goldsmith and jeweler who founded the House of Fabergé was beloved by Russian czars and turned out fantastical baubles and jewel-encrusted gewgaws for the aristocracy. Then came the  Russian Revolution, which destroyed his way of life and spurned what he loved best: objects of exquisite luxury.

Fabergé was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1846.  The doodle is celebrating the 166th anniversary of his birth. Peter Carl's father had a jewelry workshop in the city, which his son inherited at age 24.  For a decade, Fabergé followed the crowd, creating jewelry similar to that made by others.  But 1882 was a breakout year for the jeweler and his partner and younger brother, Agathon. 

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The pair set out to create their own designs -- while also being copy cats.

They took 18th century objects and recreated them, giving them a "new language," as one site puts it.  At the '82 Pan-Russian Exhibition in Moscow, Fabergé snagged a gold medal, media adoration and the eye of Alexander III.

As legend has it, the czar subsequently challenged Fabergé to make him a copy of a French 18th century Louis XVI snuff box from the royal court's collection. It is said that the czar couldn't tell the two apart. Fabergé became the official jeweler of the court, and the aristocracy became his clientele. 

Just three years after being the toast of the Pan-Russian Exhibition, Fabergé began rolling out the eggs.

Not Fabergé personally.  Although he created the one-of-a-kind designs for the eggs, he is not believed to have crafted any eggs himself. That was carried out by a team of master craftsmen, including Michael Perchin, Henrik Wigstrom and Erik Kollin.

One fun but unconfirmed story says that Fabergé was such a perfectionist he carried a hammer in his pocket, and if he found a piece by one of his craftsmen to be below his standards, he would put the hammer down -- smashing the object in front of the staff.

No word on whether any eggs suffered that fate.

The house made thousands of jeweled eggs from 1885 to 1917, most of them miniatures.  Fifty bigger ones -- a combo of precious metals, enamel and gems -- were made for Alexander II and Nicholas II.   The first was the Hen Egg, given by Alexander to his wife in 1885. The white enameled gold egg opens to a golden yolk that holds a golden hen with ruby eyes. 

The tradition continued, and not even the czar would know what the design of the egg would be.  The only requirement: a surprise inside.

It was a pretty sweet life for a jeweler.  But it all came crashing down for Fabergé.  With the Russian Revolution,  the Bolsheviks nationalized the House of Fabergé.  The family fled to Switzerland, and Fabergé died there in 1920.

In November 2007, a Faberge clock -- referred to at auction as the Rothschild egg and valued at $18 million -- sold for a record-setting $18.5 million, the most expensive Fabergé object ever sold at auction.

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