The history of Faberge could be neatly recast as a three-act play. The drama and intrigue are certainly there. Act I: The Fabergé family flees from France to Russia in the late 17th century to escape religious persecution and, by 1842, lands in Saint Petersburg, where Gustav Fabergé opens up a jewelry shop. His son, Peter Carl, eventually takes over, becomes jeweler to the imperial court and is soon known for his lavish objets d’art — gem-encrusted eggs, clocks and snuff boxes. Then, the 1917 Russian Revolution hits and the Fabergés flee again. Act II: In 1951, the family sells the brand to an American, Sam Rubin (who was using the name on perfumes for a decade anyway). Consumer products giant Unilever snaps it up in 1989 and attempts a revamp seven years later. At this point, Fabergé’s luxe past is eclipsed by overzealous licensing and the name becomes connected to everything from neck ties to laundry soap. Act III: Under the aegis of private equity firm Pallinghurst Resources, the brand relaunches in 2009 with a high jewelry collection in hopes of recapturing Fabergé’s storied grandeur. No more trademark eggs, perfumes or, needless to say, detergent.
Now, two years later, Fabergé’s pursuit continues with its newest incarnation: a second line of fine jewelry, this one in white diamonds and with a slightly lower price point, ranging from $18,000 to $2.6 million (as opposed to the high jewelry collection, which runs from $21,000 to $5 million). The designs are meant to be more approachable, as well.
“We should be able to offer everything from the accessible — which can be gifting items — to the dream, all under one roof,” says creative director Katharina Flohr, a former jewelry editor at Tatler and founding fashion director of Russian Vogue. “The concept was to tune into trends for something that’s accessible, wearable and versatile. It’s a shift toward classic design in general and has the same storytelling element of Fabergé, but appeals to a broader and international clientele, especially the Asian market.” Whereas the high jewelry pieces are designed by Paris jeweler Frédéric Zaavy, this collection is produced by an in-house team based in Geneva. (Flohr and the corporate office are in London.)
While the new line has yet to be named, the debut collection is dubbed Le Carnet de Bal, which takes its name from an old-fashioned tradition: “A lady would have a dance card and put the names of the gentlemen she was going to dance with,” says Flohr, adding that the collection’s look was inspired by a range of bygone ballroom dances. The Mazurka bangle featuring 1,409 diamonds, for one, is “all swirly and mad,” notes Flohr. “You almost have the feeling it’s emulating all the dance steps. We wanted to celebrate Saint Petersburg society in the early 1900s.”
Other influences were pulled from early Fabergé motifs (garlands and bows) as well as those famous eggs — the new sun-shaped Trelliage pendants take after a similarly named egg that Tsar Alexander III gifted his wife, Empress Maria Feodorovna, in 1892. Speaking of those iconic enamel eggs, they’re also making a comeback. Flohr remained tight-lipped on the details but said the company will reintroduce them with a splashy debut tied to the Easter season.
Flohr chose to roll out the signature eggs now rather than during the initial relaunch in 2009 for a very specific reason: “We never wanted to replicate the past,” says Flohr. “And jewelry was a legitimate start for us. We had to create a momentum in order to differentiate from what licensees had done in the past. Had we launched with enamel eggs in the beginning, we would not have been able to reach the understanding that Fabergé is exquisite craftsmanship and we’ve returned as a high jeweler.”
In keeping with the two-tier business approach already in place for jewelry, the product range for the eggs will cover both the ultra-high end and the more affordable (although Flohr declines to disclose any specific price points). “I started my career at W magazine and I remember one thing Mr. Fairchild told me: ‘Never overlook the obvious,’” recalls Flohr. “We’re in a niche world of design and creativity and striving for excellence, but at the end of the day, we can’t overlook the obvious.”
Also in the pipeline is a line of small enamel objects and curios, in keeping with the company’s origins, and a new watch collection with Mohr Time, to make its debut in March at Basel. Flohr adds that the firm is scouting store locations in the U.S., Russia, the Far East and the Middle East for 2012. (Currently, its sole store is the Jaime Hayon-designed flagship in Geneva.)
Unlike the other iterations of Fabergé, this time, the family is intimately involved — a first since its members scattered after the Russian Revolutions. The company has set up the Fabergé Heritage Council, which includes the founder’s great-great-granddaughters, Sarah and Tatiana, the latter who’s currently writing a book about Fabergé.
“I can truly say it’s a family business again,” says Flohr. Or in other words, Act IV of the Fabergé play.
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