Jewellery Around the World: Russian Jewellery
Our final instalment in our jewellery around the world series is Russian jewellery. Russian jewellery, especially antique Russian jewellery, is historically known for its extravagance and otherworldly beauty. The home of Carl Fabergé and the largest country in the world, Russia has birthed some of the most beautiful and sought after pieces in jewellery history.
Interestingly Russia’s glittering jewellery history largely culminated in the 18th and 19th century due to major historical and political changes.
Modern Replica of The Imperial Crown of Russia, Source - Wikimedia Commons
As always in our jewellery around the world series, we will take a little look at the brief history of the country itself, just like in our Lillicoco University Era pages, to understand in what climate these pretty pieces came about.
A Small History of Russia
Ancient Russia was largely dominated by the “Early East Slavs” which were Scandinavian vikings. But as Russia is such a huge country, the entirety of the land was largely dominated by nomadic secular societies and populations. Although many of these early societies were pagan, there was a widespread absorption of Greek Christian influences.
The Mongol’s invaded in the 13th Century and helped to establish cities like Moscow and their western capital of Sarai which grew to become one of the largest cities in the Medieval world.
Russia started to develop their independence by the end of the 14th century as the powers of the Mongols declined. This led to Moscow becoming its own principality and was governed by the Grand Princes of Moscow in the 15th and 16th century. This laid the foundations of the Russian state that we recognise today, including creating Russia’s coat of arms the double-headed Eagle.
Russian Empire Coat of Arms, c.1800, Source - Wikimedia Commons
The first grand prince of Moscow was Ivan III, who pumped lots of money into military and economic development, but his foreign policy was very anti-Catholic which meant that he didn’t trade much with Western countries, leading to a lack of western influences in jewellery and art. After Ivan III died, Russia was then governed by Ivan IV, also known as Ivan the Terrible. Ivan the Terrible was known for executing numerous nobles who didn’t agree with his ideologies, as well as facilitating the massacre of Novgorod in 1570. To calm national tensions, Russia was invaded by the Polis-Lithuanians and Swedish armies.
Portrait of Ivan IV of Viktor Vasnetov, c.1897, Source - Wikimedia Commons
In regards to western history, Russia didn’t become one of the most powerful countries and empires in the world until the 18th century. In the 17th century, Russia was claimed to be in the “times of troubles” as disparate leadership, uprisings, high taxes and famine stunted national growth. The Romanov family was established as the Tsar’s of Russia in 1613, and they led Russia for 300 years.
As mentioned above, the 18th and 19th century was momentous for Russian economic, social and cultural growth, with leaders like Catherine the Great building Russia to be the great power in the west that it is known as today. Westernisation spread through the upper and aristocratic classes of the Russian population, whereas the large bulk of society was under serfdom. Serfdom was present throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, and largely existed in Russia until the 19th century, this was where peasants could be bought, sold or traded with the landed with little individual rights of their own. The 18th century aristocracy and the Romanov’s had built a lavish court that rivalled Paris and London.
Portrait of Catherine the Great in her 50s, c.1780s, Source - Wikimedia Commons
The 19th century was also huge for Russian literature, and in 1861 Serfdom was emancipated which led to the stratospheric rise of the middle class and hugely expanded industrialisation and widespread economic growth. By the end of the 19th century, Russia was entering its Silver age of Russian culture, with major artistic movements of Russian symbolism, Acmerism and Futurism.
There was, however, a key split between Westernisation and Russian nationalism, which ultimately culminated in the Russian Revolution of 1917. Many were dissatisfied and done with the long-aristocratic rule of the Romanovs, especially after the gruelling defeat of Russia in the Russian-Japanese war and the involvement in World War I. The Soviet Union was established in 1922 and lasted until 1991.
Russian Jewellery History
Russia’s jewellery industry was an ancient art, with many of the ancient cities and civilisations centres for Russian Goldsmiths. Not to mention, Russia had the greatness that was the Ural mountains, which became huge mining centres of precious metals and gemstones. This not only was imperative to Russian trade with other countries but it spurred their own creations especially in the 17th century, when their jewellery industry boomed.
There was a multiplicity of ancient jewellery in Russia. Ancient Russian jewellery techniques included the following:
- Skan - ornate twisting of Silver and Gold wires
- Zern - the covering of the surface with Gold and Silver granules
- Engravings of genre scene, pagan rituals, mythical scenes, animals and birds.
Precious gemstones were widely incorporated in these ancient jewels, as they were believed to possess supreme powers. Many Russian societies also had their own folk jewellery in early Russian history. These were bedecked with a bevvy of Pearls and elaborate beading and were worn around the body.
Between the 11th and 14th century, Kiev was known as the Russian centre of jewellery, with Novgorod overtaking Kiev in the 15th century and Moscow in the 16th century, and St Petersburg in the 18th century. Popular medieval styles included granulation and vibrant cloisonné Enamel, as well as religious motifs like crosses and iconography.
When the Romanov’s came into power in the 17th century, Russian jewellery became the imperial powerhouse that it is formally recognised as today. From early in the Romanov court, there was a demand for glittering jewels, and not just on the body, jewels were wanted on pretty much every ornamentation possible, including vases, figurines, candlesticks and table-tops. During Catherine the Great's reign, Russian aristocratic women dominated the Russian Imperial court. This resulted in numerous Russian jewellers that frequented in Moscow and St Petersburg, showcasing their elaborate designs to the world and catapulting their careers.
What is interesting is that, in Russian jewellery history, there was always this competition between western influences and a distinct Russian national style. In 1859, Alexander II established the Imperial Archaeological Commission in St Petersburg, which sought to uncover Russia’s dense history and sought to establish a national style in jewellery-making and art. According to Russian jewellery enthusiasts, Moscow sought an exclusively Russian style in jewellery, whereas St Petersburg housed jewellers that would look to the western fashions of Paris! The Russian national style was hyperbolic and sparkling, designed to sparkle under candlelight and also contrast against heavy dark furs (due to Russia's cold climate). The shapes and gemstone cuts were influenced by Slavic styles which trickled into both the Russian court but also jewellery worn by the lower classes. These Russian 18th-19th century earrings are the perfect example of these design influences.
18th Century Rose Gold Diamond, Ruby, Foiled Pink Sapphire and Pearl Earrings, c.18th Century Russia, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum
The Jewellers of Russia’s Imperial Court
If you have a penchant for collecting antique jewellery, then Russian jewellery is one of the hardest and most prestigious finds. This is because in the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Bolshevik’s broke down and sold the jewellery owned by the Romanov’s and the Russian aristocracy to pay for World War I reparations.
With this in mind, there are a few pieces that still frequent the auction houses of Sotheby’s and Christies., but these often go for astonishing prices. Not to mention, many historians are still on the hunt for the missing Imperial Fabergé eggs.
There were numerous jewellers that frequented Russia’s imperial court, here are a few!
The House of Bolin
The Bolin’s were one of Russia’s most historic and esteemed jewellers, closely working with the Royal family since the 18th century, and today they still serve the royal family of Sweden. The House of Bolin were originally based in St Petersburg and quickly they became the most esteemed and sought after jewellers in the city. In fact, it is believed that the House of Bolin served as the Romanov’s more than any other jeweller between the period of the 1800s to 1890. Although Bolin had established its leading legacy, by the end of the 19th century, many Parisian jewellers like Boucheron had established themselves in St Petersburg and the genius of Carl Fabergé had firmly imprinted itself onto the Romanov Tsars.
Nevertheless, the House of Bolin created some absolutely spectacular pieces and even dipped into the world of ladies’ accessories like gloves, handbags, plumes and luxurious underwear! Their jewellery and silverware comfortably morphed into the Art Nouveau style that we all know and love, creating effortless romantic pieces that captures the sensibilities of fashionable society at the time.
One of their most revered creations is the Vladimar Tiara, an exquisite Emerald and Diamond tiara that was crafted for the German Princess and Russian Duchess Maria Pavlovna. This diadem survived the tumultuous revolution and is today within the British Royal Collection, and is believed to be one of Queen Elizabeth’s favourite Tiaras.
Jeremie Pauzie was a Genevan Diamond artist, and is most well known for his spectacular creation of the Imperial Crown of Russia for Catherine the Great’s coronation. Throughout his working life for the Romanov’s, Pauzie was given the grand title of Principal Diamond expert and Court jeweller, consistently making glittering creations for the Imperial family and their friends. Pauzie was chosen for his talents in creating new Diamond shapes.
Gemstone Bouquet of Flowers, Jeremie Pauzie, c.1740s, Source - The Hermitage Museum
The Imperial Crown of Russia is one of the most elaborate displays of patriotism we have ever laid our eyes on! The crown is a fabulous display of 18th century classicism with two Gold and Silver half spheres wholly encrusted with Diamonds and with Pearls lining the mitre. These two half spheres were believed to represent the Eastern and Roman empires meeting as one in Russia. This crown clearly has western styles at work with a fleur-de-lys surrounding the mitre which has similar representations in crowns on saints.
Although Pauzie’s work and fame largely remained in Russia, he moved to Switzerland in the 1760s.
Ignaty Sasikov was one of Imperial Russia’s most revered jewellers, simply because he displayed a distinct ornate national style. With this in mind, he was invited to exhibit his works at numerous international exhibitions, showing prestigious Russian craftsmanship to the world.
Sasikov specialised in silverware, and crafted ornate Silver pieces from the most utilitarian to the decorative. His designs were sculptural and baroque in nature, treating every piece as a work of art itself.
Ivan Khlebnikov founded the Khlebnikov Imperial Russian jewellery firm in the 1860s in St Petersburg. Khlebnikov gained the Imperial courts commendation for creating elaborate and saturated cloisonné and plique-a-jour enamel pieces. These pieces had the look of vibrant stained glass, giving your home an ethereal look.
By the end of the 19th century, Khlebnikov’s pieces were in such high demand amongst the aristocracy that his firm had employed 200 craftsmen! The firm dissolved as a result of the 1917 Russian revolution with the few pieces surviving mainly of decorative silver-ware.
Pavel Ovchinnikov's was interestingly born into a family of Serfs, and his talents for fine detail had him sent to Moscow in 1842 to study jewellery craftsmanship. In the 1850s he opened his own workshop, and soon became one of the court favourites for commissions. Notably, Ovchinnikov's had employed over 1000 people to work for his workshop in Moscow. Like Khlebnikov, Ovchinnikov's was most well-known for his beautiful enamel work including cloisonne, champlee, and watermark which was soon becoming a hallmark in Imperial Russian style. In 1865 Ovchinnikov's was appointed court supplier to Tsar Alexander III and his works were widely exhibited at national and international fairs in the mid 19th century.
After Ovchinnikov's death in 1888, his son’s overtook the firm making its legacy last until the 1917 Russian Revolution.
The Keibel jewellery firm was of German origins, but was firmly established in St Petersburg by the end of the 18th century. The Keibel’s worked closely with the Imperial royal family, even crafting the crown for the coronation of Alexandra Feodorovna, the wife of Nicholas I.
Keibel is best known for their work of state medals and decorations, which today are incredibly collectable. In fact, Keibel was very influential in the changing of these designs, despite official strict protocol of the time.
Empress Alexandra Feodorovna at the Coronation, c.1826, Source - Wikimedia Commons
And how can we not include Carl Fabergé? Carl Fabergé is the most recognisable Imperial Russian jeweller with a penchant for lavish Guilloché enamel pieces. Faberge was exclusively working for the Romanov’s and the Imperial Court up until the Russian Revolution, overshadowing all other jewellers at the time. Faberge was taught by respected goldsmiths in France, Germany and England, and was known to regularly attend galleries in Paris to view the beautiful historic pieces on display. With this in mind, Fabergé clearly brought western influences with him when crafting Russian pieces and is most famous for his bejewelled Easter eggs.
Fabergé Colonnade Egg, c.1910, Source - The Royal Collection Trust