REVIVAL OF FABERGÉ
Back in 2009, I largely ignored the news that Faberge was producing high-end jewellery again; mostly because of a vague recollection of shoddy so-called “Fabergé” porcelain collectibles and cheap jewellery in recent decades. With the benefit of hindsight, I admit that may have been unjust of me because I did not know that Fabergé had been revived and family members reunited with the brand (see History below).
When you win one Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève award (GPHG), you may garner the interest of the horological Press. When you win two GPHG in-a-row as Fabergé did in 2015 and 2016, you’ve got my full PuristS watch collector’s attention!
I think the key difference with the new management has been the driving passion to produce “enduring and endearing personal possessions” and the involvement of the Fabergé family. To achieve this, old licences have been bought back or allowed to lapse. The parent company, Gemfields, owns Fabergé and the world’s largest ruby and emerald mines, thus ensuring best material and human resources are leveraged.
New CEO, Sean Gilbertson, adheres to the first over-arching principle at Fabergé today: “Use the best artisans in each of the technical and aesthetic specialties even if they are outside the company.” The best jewellers, enamellers, watchmakers and engravers across Europe work on the pieces.
Of course, producing new but endearing Fabergé timepieces requires direction. After an executive search rejecting many male veterans of the industry, Fabergé appointed a young lady, Aurélie Picaud, as Timepieces Director in November 2013. A graduate of ITECH Engineering School in Lyon, she had worked at Swatch Group, Omega and Audemars Piguet. Fifteen months later, Fabergé presented three complicated watches at Baselworld 2015 — two for ladies and one for men.
It was then clear that the second over-arching principle is that Fabergé watches must contain secrets or endearing surprises.
The House of Fabergé was a jewellery studio in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg), Russia and de facto ‘Jeweller to the Tsars of Russia’ until the entire royal household was murdered in 1918. Peter Carl Fabergé was famous for elaborate jewel-encrusted Fabergé eggs and timepieces for Russian royalty. Escaping the Bolsheviks via Finland, Carl Fabergé finally sought refuge in Lausanne, Switzerland but died a broken man just two years later.
Meanwhile, the Bolsheviks “nationalised” the Russian Fabergé firm in 1918 but sold treasured pieces from the factory and the Winter Palace very cheaply to “buy farm equipment and bread”. Wealthy American and French collectors swooped in and carted off innumerable crates of Fabergé pieces.
In 1924, Peter Carl’s sons (Alexander and Eugène) established Fabergé et Cie in Paris, as a rival company “with true bloodline” using the trademark “FABERGÉ, PARIS”. In 1937, the brand name “Fabergé Inc” was registered by Samuel Rubin, who was an importer of soap and olive oil in the USA. Fabergé Inc sold perfumes and toiletries that the Fabergé family did not know about until 1945, when they started lawsuit from Paris.
Money ran out and an out-of-court settlement was agreed in 1951 with Rubin paying $25,000 for the rights to use the Fabergé name “only for perfume”. In 1964, Rubin sold Fabergé Inc for $26 million. From 1964 to 1984, many consumer products and clothes, as well as feature movies were produced by Fabergé Inc. The most famous were ‘Brut’ cologne and ‘Babe’ perfume. Brut Productions even made the Academy Award winning movie ‘A Touch of Class’ (Glenda Jackson) in 1973 . In a shock result during 1984, Fabergé et Cie (Paris) lost their rights to use their own family name on jewelry after a lawsuit against the giant Fabergé Inc. backfired. Fabergé et Cie continued to operate in Paris until 2001.
In 1989, Unilever bought Fabergé Inc. for US$1.55 billion, registered the Fabergé name as a trademark and licenced the name to third parties making and selling products ranging from cheap collectibles and custom jewelry to Barbie dolls, jeans and spectacle frames under the Fabergé brand. However, it continued to sell perfume and toiletries branded ‘Fabergé’. Lever Fabergé, owned hundreds of cosmetics and household brands including Dove, Impulse, Sure, Lynx, Organics, Timotei, Signal, Persil, Comfort, Domestos, Surf, Sun, and Cif. This meant that the Fabergé brand appeared on a range of products from bleach to toilet cleaners!
In 2007, an investment firm in London acquired Unilever’s global portfolio of trademarks, licenses and associated rights under the Fabergé brand name intending to restore Fabergé as a leading purveyor of “enduring and endearing personal possessions”. Old licences to the Fabergé brand were bought back or allowed to lapse. Reunification of Fabergé brand with the Fabergé family was assured as Tatiana and Sarah Fabergé (great-grand-daughters of Carl Fabergé), became founding members of the Fabergé Heritage Council, a division of Fabergé Limited.
In 2009, Fabergé launched its first collection of high jewellery and opened a boutique in Geneva. In 2011, Fabergé launched two collections of egg pendants, including a dozen high jewellery ones. They were the first Fabergé eggs to have been made by a Fabergé under family eyes since 1917. In 2011, Fabergé was sold in the Fine Jewellery Room at Harrods and their own boutique on Grafton Street in London. In 2012, Fabergé opened its own boutique on New York’s Madison Avenue.
In 2015, Fabergé won a Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève award – ‘Ladies Hi Mechanical’ prize – for the Fabergé Lady Compliqueé Peacock.
In 2016, Fabergé won a Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève award – ‘Travel Time’ prize – for the Fabergé Visionnaire DTZ.
Fabergé CEO Sean Gilbertson and Timepieces Director Aurélie Picaud
Working with the best watchmakers at Agenhor (Atelier Genevois d’Horlogerie) and APRP (Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi), Fabergé already had a running start by winning the GPHG (“Oscars” of the watchmaking world).
Fabergé Lady Compliquée Peacock watch
The Lady Compliquée Peacock was developed with Jean-Marc Wiederrecht at Agenhor. It features a gold peacock that fans out its feathers over an hour, indicating the passing minutes from 0 to 60 until snapping back to zero on-the-hour. The hours are indicated by a rotating ring: the current hour is adjacent to the crown. The microengineering marvel is that the four moving feathers travel at different speeds so they fan out realistically with the front feather moving the greatest distance during the hour.
The watch above shows the time as 1.00H.
The dial is set with Paraiba tourmalines and tsavorites. It is also available in red (ruby), green (emerald) and black (onyx) variants.
The watch was inspired by a Fabergé egg from 1908 containing a peacock automaton that could spread its tail feathers.
It won the 2015 GPHG ‘Ladies Hi Mechanical’ prize.
Fabergé Lady Compliquée Winter watch
The Lady Compliquée Winter uses the same mechanicals to fan out segments on the dial represent ice spreading over a freezing lake, that was inspired by the Fabergé Winter Egg from 1913, made of rock crystal decorated with ice crystal motifs.
Fabergé Visionnaire DTZ watch
The dual time zone Fabergé Visionnaire DTZ with its secret 2nd time zone central display was developed by Agenhor and won the 2016 GPHG ‘Travel Time’ prize. There are two variants available: a rose gold/polished titanium version and a white gold/black DLC titanium model.
The Fabergé surprise is that the jumping hour, 2nd time zone display can only be seen by the wearer because of the alignment of hour numeral with the optical lens and the wearer’s wrist. Here it is 00:59 GMT in London shown by the central ’24’ and 09:59 local time in Tokyo.
The black numeral disc can be seen on this photograph of the back of the watch. Another Fabergé surprise: Although it is an automatic winding watch, the winding rotor is not at the back but secretly on the front under the dial!
The Fabergé secret is a hidden wheatsheaf engraved on a part inside the movement. The lever next to it is intricately formed into a peacock motif, a bird that frequently appears on Fabergé pieces. On the hour, the lever resets to its lowest point and the peacock appears to ‘peck’ at the wheat. Even the owner will not see theatrical magic but that’s the whimsical and playful Fabergé on show!
I wore a loan Fabergé Visionnaire DTZ for my extended on-the-wrist review.
Personally, I prefer the 18K white gold and black DLC treated titanium version because it accentuates the contemporary bi-coloured design.
Local time is shown by hours and minutes hands turning around a raised, decorated dome at the centre of the dial. The digital display hour of a second timezone (or GMT) is seen through a central opening, magnified by optical lens. There is no need for a Day/Night indicator unlike many other dual timezone watches because 24 hour numerals are used. The winding rotor is hidden by the dial and colour-matched sapphire crystal hour ring with applied indices.
I found it difficult to “see” the 2nd timezone display when the watch was on the table but after some time on-the-wrist, it became intuitive and normal to just turn my wrist to the correct angle for an instant reading. The pusher at 10 o’clock position is for setting the 2nd timezone hour difference from local time; it was not easy to accidentally change the setting. This is important for the traveller as I found to my embarassment with another brand of Travel Time watch….
The central jumping hour display changed on-the-hour with a discrete click rather than a clunk that some jumping hour watches emit.
Here the local time is 10:06pm and the second time zone is 8 hours behind at 6 minutes past Noon.
The dark grey dial with TC1 luminescent coated 15-minute numerals is made of sapphire with metallic treatment and applied numerals and hour indicators. The multi-layered dial and decorative radiating lines from the centre remind us of the architectural decorations under the enamel of Imperial Fabergé Easter Eggs.
The 43mm diameter case is made of 18K white gold and black DLC (Diamond-Like Carbon) coated titanium. The slender bezel evokes grand elegance and the fluted crown adds a imperial touch. The lug construction is complexed such that the leather strap is integrated into the case at an angle that makes for comfort; even smaller wrists benefit as the strap moulds around the wrist. The folding or deployant clasp made for more comfort but took a while to get used to.
The domed sapphire crystal just begs to be stroked and touched but also helps to magnify the 2nd timezone hour display. The anti-reflective coating on the sapphire caseback allows a unhindered view of the meticulous decoration of the movement. You can even try to find the hidden peacock!
I felt ‘special’ wearing this watch about town; I guess that is the definition of an “enduring and endearing personal possession”.
It did not have a bombastic complication nor ostentatious appearance. The ‘two-toned’ look was suitably discrete and did not scream “precious metal – rob me!” Nobody knew of its hidden surprise and secrets. It was commented upon for the bold two-toned case and dial design but I had to reveal the central hour display, if I chose to do so.
I wandered around my usual luxury haunts in London. Experienced watch salespersons were often wrong when asked to guess the price, even after they were told about the functions, case material and brand. Only one salesman guessed a price close to the correct $29,500.
At the end of the day, this was a likeable watch but you already knew that because a whole load of people on the GPHG Jury already did……
In a short time, Fabergé Ltd has proven it’s mettle as a “start-up” purveyor of “enduring and endearing” timepieces with two GPHG awards in successive years and I wish them luck with their 2017 offerings.
Although the next Fabergé timepiece may be quite fantastic, you can be sure that the Fabergé team is ‘fun-tastic’ too.
I have not received any remuneration, in cash or in kind, from Faberge for this review.
Author’s Biography: Melvyn Teillol-Foo (MTF)
Dr Melvyn Teillol-Foo is a contributor on AlphaLuxe web-zine.
He was also CEO of PuristSPro.com horology discussion fora. He blends his scientific medical objectivity from the pharmaceutical industry with purist passion, in his musings about watches, travel, wine, food and other epicurean delights.
His travelog ‘Lazing’ and feasting ‘Grazing’ series of articles have now passed into “mythic legend” on the original ‘ThePuristS.com’ website. Those were the halcyon days when he was “rich and famous” that he remembers with bittersweet fondness.
Dr Teillol-Foo is a quoted enthusiast on the watch industry, appearing in feature articles and interviews by Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, Sunday Times (London), Chronos (Japan), Citizen Hedonist (France) and other publications. He has authored articles for magazines like International Watch (iW) – both U.S. & Chinese editions, ICON (Singapore), August Man (Singapore), Comfort (China) and The Watch (Hong Kong).