The Russian industrialist Pavel Ovchinnikov initiated the revival of Russian enamel in the nineteenth century. Ovchinnikov’s name was said at the time “to be known to almost all of Russia.” He was born in a family of serfs owned by Prince P.M. Volkonsky, who sent the talented young man to Moscow for training. Ovchinnikov started off as a worker and apprentice in the factory owned by his brother A.A. Ovchinnikov, then headed his own business and “spent twenty years improving his skills to a high degree of perfection.” The Link of Times collection contains an extremely rare piece made in the A. Ovchinnikov and Son factory: a round silver box with pitted and picturesque enamel, which has additional value because it comes with its original cardboard box with the embossed brand name of the company.
Pavel Ovchinnikov’s firm, founded in 1851, had annual revenue of more than 800,000 rubles, and manually processed more than 4,800 kg of silver per year by the end of the century. According to 1893 data, the firm had 130 employees and 60 apprentices that year. A branch of the company was opened on Bolshaya Morskaya Ulitsa in St. Petersburg in 1873, in the most fashionable district of the city. The company factory in St. Petersburg produced high-quality silverware. Pavel Ovchinnikov became a supplier to the Imperial Court In 1881, and his sons, who were his successors, the eldest of which was Michael, kept that title in 1896. Victor Emmanuel, King of Italy, honored P. Ovchinnikov at the Vienna exhibition of 1873 by giving him permission to be named a Supplier to His Majesty. At the same exhibition, Ovchinnikov was awarded the Iron Cross and a large gold medal for the products he exhibited. His company regularly received gold medals at national and international exhibitions, and in 1878 Pavel Ovchinnikov became a knight of the Order of the Legion d'Honneur - France's highest award. The company owners invited the most famous painters, sculptors and architects of the time to work for the firm. It’s enough to name I. Monigetti, V. Gartman, E. Lancere, A. Ober, D. Chichagov, A. Opekushin, L. Dahl, and A. Zhukovsky. Ovchinnikov was the first among Russian industrial jewelers to open a school at his production facilities, offering classes of applied drawing with practical lessons in the study of silversmithing techniques. Every boy carefully studied painting and sculpting, while at the same time mastering general disciplines such as Russian language, geometry, geography, calligraphy, and Scripture. This, in particular, explained the secret of the firm’s progress, and its success and fame.
Pavel Ovchinnikov’s contemporaries saw in his work “permanent, persistent and energetic efforts to improve”, as a result of which his production became more and more “artistic and diverse.” P. Ovchinnikov’s Firm, which at the time held the leading market position, was the first began to producing “richly enamelled pieces in the old Russian style”, such as kovshes, dishes, goblets and grace cups (bratina), chiseled from a single piece of metal in the so-called “repousse” technique. Such items were often given as souvenirs and gifts, and often played the role of official or diplomatic gifts. The work of these items, decorated with multi-color patterns of enamel on filigree and precious stones, such as Siberian talus, were “the latest improvements in silversmithing.” The Link of Times collection contains numerous representative objects “covered with rich enamelling in the old Russian style”, which have the form of ancient Russian utensils. An example is a representative enamel device for champagne cocktail with multicolored gems. Along with them are dinnerware sets and other items that were quite modern for their time, decorated with enamel on filigree or in pitted enamel in the style of old Russian antiquities.
The works with enamel on filigree done by the Ovchinnikov Firm are distinguished by fine ornamentation of exquisite figures, “artistic perfection” in every detail, and a rich and harmonious range of colors without being too gaudy. Such is the massive jewelry box given as a gift in the form of a chest with the coat of arms of Ryazan Oblast painted on it. Its embossed gilt surface is tightened using a surface filigree pattern. The enamel color range with a predominance of azure and emerald colors is reserved and solemn, which corresponds to the rank of the gift. The enamel on filigree combines with the beautiful enamel used to impart the coats of arms of cities in the region.