Interview: Fabergé, known for jewelled eggs it crafted for Russia’s tsars, has big plans for India

The brand — that had deep connections with several of India’s royal families — is already retailing fine in the country and, on special requests, even those decadent eggs. Its jewellery collection is completely handcrafted by highly-skilled artisans. 

August 30, 2020 / 07:50 AM IST

In 2012, Gemfields, the London-based suppliers of coloured gemstones, bought luxury jeweller Fabergé from one of their shareholders, in a deal valuing the maker of lavish Easter eggs for Russia’s last tsar at $142 million. Since then, the brand has been on an expansion spree, launching watches and jewellery in different markets.

Fabergé launched its watches in India a year ago and is now set to introduce its jewellery. Josina von dem Bussche-Kessell, Global Sales Director, and Aurélie Picaud, Times Piece Director, takes us through the brand’s history and India-strategy.

Faberge peacock eggs. Faberge peacock eggs.

What has Fabergé’s journey been like in India since the time it launched its watches? 

Aurélie Picaud: Fabergé is part of the Gemfields Group, which has offices in India, and we regularly attend jewellery and gemstones fairs in the country. We started introducing our innovative timepieces in 2017 through different trunk shows organised in New Delhi and Mumbai. We revealed stories behind each of them and how we have translated the heritage of Peter Carl Fabergé (the founder) in our contemporary creations. More recently, we partnered with Diacolor, which represents the majority of our timepiece collections.

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Aurélie Picaud. Aurélie Picaud.

Which have been your best-selling watches?

Aurélie: The Indian market has been particularly interested in our two award-winning watches: Compliquée Peacock and Visionnaire DTZ. Both have been developed from scratch and include the new Fabergé exclusive watch movements. Our Compliquée timepiece is particularly colourful and studded with rubies and emeralds. The creative use of colour in India is a source of inspiration while designing our timepieces.

Fabergé, as a brand, was known for jewelled eggs, particularly famous among the Russian oligarchs. From eggs to watches and jewellery, what is the brand’s heritage?

Aurélie: Peter Carl Fabergé himself worked on clock objects, eggs, clocks as well as the timepieces. He used Moser or Vacheron Constantin movements during his time, so it seemed logical for us to return to what Fabergé was doing before 1917: Partnering with the best craftspeople for each watch project, creating exclusively mechanical watches, working with the finest Swiss suppliers.

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It is extremely important to us to include the Fabergé characteristic of ‘ingenuity’ through all our new watches, particularly in our complications. We develop exclusive Fabergé movements and other unexpected ways to display the time, as Fabergé himself was doing with the clock objects.

We reinterpret our heritage in a way that is contemporary and surprising. For example, the Compliquée Peacock was inspired by the Peacock Egg from 1908 and the Compliquée Winter by the Winter Egg designed by a young woman, Alma Pihl, in 1913.

The Visionnaire DTZ timepiece displays a second time zone in a unique hidden way at the centre of the watch, which is again inspired by the concept of surprise at the heart of Fabergé eggs.

Not many Indians are aware of the backstory or heritage of Fabergé’s jewellery …

Josina von dem Bussche-Kessell: Our heritage is well-documented and the fascinating story of Fabergé has lent itself to several books, articles and various insightful documentaries. More specifically, Fabergé’s history involved some of the most prominent Indian Maharajas, such as the Maharaja Sir Pratap Singh Bahadur of Jammu and Kashmir, who commissioned Fabergé to create a crystal stamp holder in 1903.

And in 1937, Queen Mary gifted the Maharaja of Bikaner a presentation box by Fabergé.

Due to India’s deep connection to jewellery, its love for gemstones and its unique and astonishing jewel creations, we have felt drawn to the country and have many Indian clients who appreciate the quality and craftsmanship of Fabergé pieces. And in many ways, that reconnects Fabergé to India again today.

Enamel workshop. Enamel workshop.

Can you tell us about the brand’s bespoke services?

Josina: The brand offers an inclusive service, whereby a client may pick their favourite gemstone from a selection of gems and can be guided through a creative process to a bespoke piece of jewellery made. This personal approach to creating a meaningful piece is very important in India, a country where family jewellers have long played an integral role in people’s lives. We know that this is a service both younger clients and families appreciate.

Is this the right time to launch in India, given the economic slowdown?

Josina: We have been engaging with Indian clients for several years and have built meaningful relationships. Of course, the world is seeing some upheaval, but we have found that, more than ever, clients value things of lasting beauty. There is no time like the present and we are excited about writing the next chapter of Fabergé’s story.

What are the challenges of the Indian market?

Aurélie: The market can be particularly challenging due to the maturity of its jewellery traditions and the tough competition that India jewellery traditions offer. However, we can see, through our partner Diacolor and through reactions of customers that India is capable of becoming a great market for us.

Given, as you mentioned, our strong jewellery traditions, how does Fabergé look at making inroads?

Josina: More than any other market, India has had jewellery at the heart of any celebration or important milestones. Beyond that, however, are the relationships that span generations.

Our mission is not to compete but to complement. Fabergé offers unique pieces. For instance, the art of enamelling has long been practised in India, but it is fundamentally different from Fabergé’s guilloché enamelling, a technique that very few craftspeople can achieve. It is about offering art that comes in almost limitless forms. Our art is unique to Fabergé.

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Will you leverage some of India’s jewellery-making traditions for the collections you sell in the country?

Josina: I was once invited to meet some of Delhi and Mumbai’s best-loved family jewellers. They were so hospitable and showed me some of their most treasured creations. I was blown away by the complexity and grandeur of the pieces. I was fascinated to see that the transformability of pieces was ‘the norm’ and we have begun incorporating it in our design ethos, in particular with our new James Ganh x Fabergé high jewellery collection.

Josina von dem Bussche-Kessell. Josina von dem Bussche-Kessell.

And while I cannot say that we have created anything in direct reference to India, Fabergé has a special relationship with the peacock. I am confident that the Peacock Compliquée timepiece will be a great success, particularly the recent edition with emeralds. Our greatest joy would be to create bespoke wedding jewellery for a family to commemorate this major milestone. I have heard and read about the famous Indian weddings. 

What would the retail network be like for your jewels?

Josina: We remain a brand with very carefully selected retail partners and locations. Representing Fabergé needs quite specific know-how and appreciation of history and tradition. We operate a small production with craftspeople, with whom we have very personal bonds that we value tremendously.

The luxury retail experience has traditionally been tangible, especially with gemstones, jewellery, timepieces and objet d’art. But we have built personal and long-lasting client relations. Throughout the pandemic, our clients have felt comfortable to communicate with us digitally.

We began our ‘By Appointment’ service over four years ago. This essentially means that clients will be looked after, no matter their location or their whereabouts. It is the beauty of being a relatively small, family-run business, where we can take the time each client needs, irrespective of budget.

The boutiques have re-opened, but we are seeing some clients still feel anxious to physically meet with us. We have been finding ways around this by inviting them to appointments via video that has seemed to work very well so far.

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Of course, like many others operating in a similar market, we are witnessing an increase in online sales during the lockdown phase of COVID-19 pandemic, when usually the split between online and retail is more even.

The future is a little unknown at the moment and we will be monitoring changes closely to ensure that we are keeping up with any shifts. I remain excited about new opportunities and the chance to re-think old (maybe outdated) retail models. I think the adaptation and reinvention of what retail shopping can look like is probably the biggest opportunity for retail to stay relevant.

Do you think that discount percentage by brands help them get more orders?

Josina: I don’t think price wars are the answer. While it is key to be competitive in all aspects of service and products, it is important we pay a fair price to the craftsmen and women who make our watches and jewels. It is more relevant than ever before for luxury brands to be responsible and support (otherwise) struggling artists, craftspeople, and all those who help to deliver exceptional products.

Fabergé is renowned for its jewelled eggs. Do you still make them and who are the collectors?

Josina: The iconic Fabergé egg remains a timeless symbol of luxury, sophistication, and impeccable craftsmanship. It is our responsibility to ensure the continuation of the legend.

Our clients are the emperors and empresses of our times and they could be from any walk of life. What unites our modern-day clients with the clients before the Russian revolution—including Queen Alexandra, King Edward VII and later Princess Victoria and King George V, to name just a few — is the desire to be wowed. Our clients look to buy small and large heirlooms with lasting value, both materially and emotionally.

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Can you tell us about the Fabergé and Rolls Royce collaboration for the Spirit of Ecstasy Egg?

Josina: This is a legendary story. It was a meeting of two masters, two like-minded brands with an extraordinary history, but not afraid to reinvent and challenge each other. It culminated in an unbelievable creation that took almost three years to achieve. Each brand was uncompromisingly committed to their craft and expertise and united by a joint vision to surprise the world.

We have bespoke mastery at the centre of what we do. We have become great friends and watch this space for a continuation of the story.

Deepali Nandwani is a journalist who keeps a close watch on the world of luxury.
Deepali Nandwani is a journalist who keeps a close watch on the world of luxury.
first published: Aug 29, 2020 07:48 am

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