229 Views |  Like

Fabergé’s silver boat sails into dreams

In Tsarist Russia, which competed in glitz and opulence with the great European courts between the Belle Époque and the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Peter Carl Fabergé was regarded as one of the greatest goldsmiths and jewellers of his time. His works interpret 18th-century French art through the Russian folk vision, and are influenced, especially in their ornamental motifs, by the severe style of the Empire as well as the floral sinuosity of Art Nouveau.

Born in Petersburg on 30 May 1846, where his father Gustav, of Huguenot origin, had settled in 1842 and opened a jewellery shop, he studied in Petersburg and travelled around Western Europe to prepare to take over his father’s business, which he did in 1870. Soon Carl Fabergé’s atelier reached its peak, employing over 500 people between workers, master designers. He opened branches in Moscow, Kiev, Odessa and London and used other workshops of leading goldsmiths. In 1885 he was appointed Imperial Silversmith and Jeweller.

Fabergé’s fame also spread to Western Europe and he had important customers from high society, especially from England. In 1900 he was decorated with the Legion of Honour at the International Exhibition in Paris.

In the forthcoming Milan auction of Russian Silver, Icons and Objects of Art on 26 June, an essential yet elegant example of a silver and stone kovsh made by Karl Fabergé between 1908 and 1917 with the imperial insignia (lot 10, estimate €4,000 – €5,000) and the characteristic boat shape.

Lot 10. Kovsh in silver and stones, St. Petersburg, 1908-1917, goldsmith K. Fabergé stamp with imperial insignia, inventory no. 18458, Chef A. Wakeva. Estimate €4,000 – 5,000

The kovsh (or kowsch depending on the transliteration from Cyrillic) is an oval, ladle-like drinking vessel of Russian origin with a handle on one side and a spout on the other. From the 16th century, kovsh became a symbol of the tsarist empire, which used them as gifts to officially reward the most loyal and faithful servants, whose names were engraved on the rim of the vessel.

It was at this stage that the kovsh began to be made of precious metals and decorated with gold and precious stones. It is said that Tsar Peter I the Great gave Frederick Augustus I of Saxony a marvellous example made of gold and niello (a black metal alloy composed of sulphur, copper and silver), decorated with sapphires and pearls.

Russia’s greatest silversmith masters, including Ovchinnikov, Khlebnikov, Maria Semenova and, above all, Fabergé, devoted themselves to its production. They created colourful specimens, mostly decorated with the cloisonné technique and studded with zircons, in the most varied shapes: Viking boats, horses, swans and other water birds.

Lot 10. Kovsh in silver and stones, St. Petersburg, 1908-1917, goldsmith K. Fabergé stamp with imperial insignia, inventory no. 18458, Chef A. Wakeva. Estimate €4,000 – 5,000