Reviews Gems & Gemology, Winter 2020, Vol. 56, No. 4

Book Review: Beyond Fabergé: Imperial Russian Jewelry

Beyond Fabergé: Imperial Russian Jewelry
By Marie Betteley and David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, hardcover, 384 pp. illus., publ. by Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., Pennsylvania, 2020, $52.69.

Beyond Fabergé explores the masters behind the jewelry, silver, and objets d’art that comprise the Russian imperial treasury. Peter Carl Fabergé is the best known of the Russian jewelers as the creator of the legendary Fabergé eggs. In fact, these works of art were made in collaboration with an array of enamelists and gem setters employed by his shop. However, Fabergé was not the only workshop to contribute to the riches of the Russian dynasty.

Other Russian jewelers during this time also won the favor of the court to satiate their appetite for splendor. Beyond Fabergé recounts the stories of these little-known designers and showcases significant jewels and curios through a remarkable compilation of evidence, including photographs, auction catalogs, historic paintings, and handwritten customer records.

From empress to court attendants, the Russian women of influence relished extravagance, unabashedly and unapologetically. This impressive volume includes close-up imagery of diamond crowns, religious icons, and silver works of art. Many items were melted down through years of conflict, while other items were sold and either dismantled or kept in private collections where they are no longer available for public display.

The book opens with an overview of events that gave rise to the remarkable splendor of the Russian dynasty, from Peter the Great in the 1700s to the court’s demise during the Russian Revolution in 1917. Peter is credited with evolving Russia to reflect and surpass the best of what European cities had to offer. Jewelry became a visual symbol for Russia’s growing imperial power and influence. In a telling visit by an English clergyman in 1778, it is said that many of the nobility were covered in diamonds.

The authors reintroduce the lives and works of once-renowned jewelers and metalsmiths, including the tragic journey of Jérémie Pauzié and the remarkable legacy of C.E. Bolin. The House of Bolin has endured for over a century following the Revolution and today is one of the oldest family-owned jewelers in the world. Notable highlights include an overview of the Sazikov silver firm, which offers insights into the introduction of historicism in the 1820s.

The second half of the book showcases the trade of these magnificent pieces. The original sell-off during the 1920s was intended to fund the industrialization of the Soviet Union, but active buying and selling continue today through auction houses and dealers.

This privileged inside look into the imperial collection is a well-suited library addition for readers with an interest in jewelry and silver, decorative arts historians, and serious collectors. A detailed glossary of Russian jewelers and silversmiths includes hallmarks as a reference for buyers and dealers.

A third-generation jewelry dealer, Marie Betteley is a jeweler historian and graduate gemologist who spent a decade working at Christie’s in New York. Her focus on Russian collections has made her a sought-after consultant. Co-author David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye is a professor of Russian history and an expert in the imperial era.

Together, the authors have led private tours to both Moscow and St. Petersburg to see imperial treasures firsthand. Beyond Fabergé reads like a journal in beautifully written prose as they guide the reader beyond the museum glass and auction catalogs to capture the remarkable history behind these Russian treasures.

Patricia Lauritzen is a jewelry designer and owner of Rosey Skye Fine Jewelry in Half Moon Bay, California.