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Lifestyles of the Rich and Eccentric: Faberge Customers

The director of Faberge's London gallery once said, "I found myself amidst a whirl of kings and queens, millionaires and maharajahs. Faberge objects were then passing through my fingers as fast as shoals of glistening herrings pass through the sea."

A list of clients reads like a social register of continental royalty. Besides the prime patrons (Russian and British royals), monarchs of Norway, Greece, Spain, Denmark, Portugal, Italy, Romania, and Serbia bought from Faberge. Not to mention the Aga Khan, King of Siam, and numerous Rothschilds. From the United States, families such as the Vanderbilts, Astors, and J.P. Morgans scooped up the trinkets. Guests to English country houses arrived with valises full of Faberge objects to bestow as gifts. Dinner guests at chichi parties found tiny Faberge knickknacks wrapped in their napkins.

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One Faberge collector, the Marquis of Anglesey, had a passionate yen for jeweled objects. He was known for sporting a shirt of his own design studded with emeralds set in platinum. His Lordship insisted on wearing this "lucky shirt" whenever playing ping-pong. Another enthusiastic collector only received visitors by night in her bedroom, where she was surrounded by fierce Great Danes. A collector named Mr. Blair decided on new Faberge acquisitions based on lunar conditions.

During the 1920s, the Bolsheviks sold off Imperial objects in wholesale lots, from Faberge pieces to hand towels embroidered with the Romanov emblem. Russian emigres, too, lived off the proceeds of former adornments. Vladimir Nabokov wrote in his memoir how a handful of jewels his family's maid scooped up as they fled St. Petersburg supported them in exile. A "pigeon-blood ruby and diamond ring" paid for a whole period of emigre life, he wrote in "Speak, Memory."

Today the premier private holdings of Faberge objects can be seen in the Forbes Magazine Collection at 60 Fifth Avenue in New York.

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