Gold standard: creating Fabergé’s modern treasures
Of all the decorative crafts, enamelling is, and always has been, one of the toughest to master. Which is exactly why Carl Fabergé was so attracted to it. The outmoded enamelled guilloché techniques of 18th century French craftsmen Fabergé had come upon in museums during his European Grand Tour of the 1860s inspired the master goldsmith to revive them.
He also saw the potential for producing a spectrum of rich, glossy colours and tasked his workshops with developing a Fabergé palette. One hundred and forty-five shades were created, including the sugared-almond-like lilacs, pinks and yellows that denote the Fabergé style. The house further amazed its peers in its mastery of ‘in the round’ or – en ronde bosse – enamelling, which was crucial to its egg designs. The curves made it torturously difficult to achieve consistency in the liquified glass during firing in impossibly hot kilns.
Today, without the patronage of the kings and tsars that Carl Fabergé served, and with many traditional techniques now obsolete, it is not possible for a craftsman to spend a year embellishing one object, such as a Fabergé egg, to the impossibly exquisite level achieved by his 19th century St Petersburg workshops, and which continues to make original Fabergé pieces so awe-inspiring. But guilloché enamelling is still a mainstay of Fabergé, with elements appearing in the house’s contemporary jewellery, egg and watch designs.
Now, Fabergé employs British-based jewellers and enamel artists to create traditional guilloché patterns in gold. Egg pendants are hand-engraved, so that the enamel – powdered glass in tones reminiscent of the original Fabergé palette – can be applied. When a design is placed in a high-temperature kiln, the enamel fuses with the metal beneath. These layers of opaque colour highlight the swirled patterns of the gold, creating the illusion of shimmering, opalescent waves of light. §