The beginnings of the House of Fabergé go back to 1842, when Gustav Fabergé, a native of the city of Pärnu (present-day Estonia), and a merchant of the 2nd guild, opened a small and modest store with a gold and diamond workshop in the Admiralty District of St. Petersburg. By origin, the Fabergé family were French Protestants (Huguenots) who left Picardy after the annulment of the Edict of Nantes in the 17th century. The family first fled to Germany, and then settled in the Russian Baltic province of Livonia. Just like many other jewelers at the time, Gustav Fabergé made a beeline for the jewelry Mecca of the Russian empire: St. Petersburg. Gustav Fabergé’s son, Peter Carl (1846-1920), under whom the family company got its well-deserved recognition and popularity, was born St. Petersburg. Carl was brought up in Russia’s northern capital, where he attended the Gymnasium of St Anne’s, a German-speaking school. The young Carl then took a business course at the Handelsschule in Dresden. Gustav Fabergé realized that the future head of the family business should receive comprehensive training, so Carl was sent on a Grand Tour around Europe. The young Fabergé visited Florence and Paris – historical centers of jewelry art and city-museums – where he gained a number of ideas which he would go on to implement in an incredibly creative way later in his career. Carl also perfected his skills under Joseph Friedman, the owner of a firm in Frankfurt am Main. Carl returned to St. Petersburg in 1872, aged 26 years. For the following 10 years, his father’s Workmaster, Hiskias Pendin, a Finn by origin, acted as his mentor and tutor.
Carl was an artist and designer, and a great number of jewelry pieces were made to his designs. Furthermore, he was a jewelry restorer and a talented researcher of this exquisite art segment. It was by no accident that Carl was named a “scientific and educated jeweler.” He did research and restoration work, studying and restoring art works for the departments of antiquities and jewels of the Imperial Hermitage, and he did so for fifteen years completely free of charge. He always accurately determined the quality of the materials from which the art objects were made, which contributed greatly to rational cataloging.
Peter Carl took over the family business in 1872, and thanks to his fine artistic taste and astounding energy, the company became the largest jewelry company in Russia. The House of Fabergé employed more than 500 artists and masters, and their work was done using modern technical equipment. But the route to fame was long and difficult. Carl Fabergé became truly well-known in 1882. The then still “relatively young, but already quite mature, first-class” jeweler Carl Fabergé participated in the All-Russian Art and Industrial Exhibition in Moscow, where he received a gold medal. The public and experts alike especially admired Fabergé’s copies of Greek gold objects from excavations in Kerch, which were kept in the Imperial Hermitage. The Empress Maria Fyodorovna visited the exhibition, and bought a pair of cufflinks made in antique style by the Russian master after the famous Italian jeweler Castellani.
Carl Fabergé was allowed to rename his company in 1885 as “Supplier of the Imperial Court”, and five years later he was bestowed the title of Appraiser to the Cabinet of His Imperial Majesty, which entitled Fabergé immediate entrance to all St. Petersburg palaces. Fabergé was invited to appraise the merits, quality and value of precious stones, and he never refused to be an appraiser whenever purchases were made. Carl Fabergé’s second son, Agathon, worked as an expert in the Treasure Gallery of the Imperial Hermitage, and was an expert at revaluing crown diamonds. The last two decades of the 19th century were a time of international recognition for the House of Fabergé; this was when many people outside Russia became aware of Carl Fabergé’s talent. His international debut at an exhibition in Nuremberg in 1885 earned him the gold medal. Fabergé also received the gold medal at the Northern Exhibition in Copenhagen in 1888, as well as an honorary diploma for his art works presented “hors de concours” (outside of the competition). Then, at the Northern Industrial-Art Exhibition in Stockholm in 1897, Fabergé was named Supplier to His Majesty the King of Sweden and Norway. It was generally admitted at the time that gold and silver works and jewelry, all of which Fabergé so aptly represented abroad, were those branches of the art industry in which the Russians knew no equal in Europe.