St. Petersburg Tour Highlights
Bolin, Imperial Russia’s Premier Court Jeweler
By far the most prominent jewelry concern in St. Petersburg was the House of Bolin. For unlike Fabergé who as a relative latecomer served only the last two tsars of Russia, Bolin produced jewelry for seven consecutive Russian sovereigns beginning with Catherine the Great. The firm held the titles of Appraiser to the Imperial Court and Court Jeweler decades longer than anyone else. It is well known that Fabergé preferred design over diamonds. Lavish gem-laden suites and parures were not his thing. He may also have felt outclassed by the houses of Bolin and Hahn and others, of which at least fifty held the Romanov warrant at the turn of the century in St. Petersburg.
Friedrich Koechli, Jeweler to the Russian Grand Dukes
Little known today, Swiss born Friedrich Koechli was greatly admired by Alexander III and Nicholas II, as well as by the wealthy Russian Grand Dukes. By 1903 the firm had surpassed even Fabergé by accumulating no less than four Grand Ducal warrants. This is significant because Grand Ducal seals were more difficult to obtain than Imperial warrants from the Tsar, and symbolized excellence of design and workmanship. First introduced during the reign of Alexander II, like the imperial warrant, the title of Supplier to the Court of the Grand Duke was awarded twice a year. To receive it, merchants had to apply, qualify and be selected. Only those who had supplied the Imperial court for eight consecutive years were eligible for the distinction.
Carl August Hahn, Diamond King
For the coronation of Nicholas Alexandrovich in 1896, his consort, Empress-to-be Alexandra Feodorovna, lacked a diamond crown. What then would she wear for this momentous occasion, probably the most important of her life? For the first time in decades, a new diamond crown was created for the imperial treasury. And for this prestigious commission, the imperial cabinet chose an Austrian-born master goldsmith, Carl August Ferdinand Hahn. It was to be the highlight of his illustrious career as jeweler to the tsars. Unlike the two coronation crowns, which were set with diamonds from the imperial treasury, Hahn himself provided the gems. This master goldsmith created some of the finest Russian jewels, diamond portrait badges and imperial presentation boxes ever made. It was to Hahn and his head workmaster, Carl Blank, that Tsar Nicholas II turned for the largest number of lavish diamond insignias or decorations for the court, including the highest orders, for elaborate diamond crosses destined for metropolitans, and for presentation rings adorned with his diamond cipher. Records indicate Nicholas purchased more from Hahn than from any other goldsmith, including Fabergé.
Carl Fabergé, in Perspective
The world loves Fabergé. Its French name, its connection to the Russian Imperial Family, European royalty and of course, the iconic eggs. The fifty spectacular eggs the tsars commissioned every Easter are among the most celebrated artifacts of the Romanov Dynasty’s splendour before its tragic demise. As a European trained goldsmith and designer, Carl Fabergé led entire workshops of artisans, goldsmiths, designers, engravers, miniaturists and stone cutters. But Carl was above all a marketing genius. Energetic, decisive, with a keen eye for fashion and changing styles, he hired the finest, whether as in-house workmasters or independent contractors, and learned quickly how to elevate a vast company to cult status, even in his own day. The eggs still fascinate today, 100 years after the Bolshevik revolution, thanks to a genius marketing mechanism that continues its amazing spin.