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A VERY RARE DIAMOND AND ROCK CRYSTAL SILVER-TOPPED GOLD-MOUNTED ‘SNOWFLAKE’ BROOCH
A VERY RARE DIAMOND AND ROCK CRYSTAL SILVER-TOPPED GOLD-MOUNTED ‘SNOWFLAKE’ BROOCH
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AN IMPORTANT COLLECTION OF FABERGÉ MASTERPIECES AND IMPERIAL TREASURES
A VERY RARE DIAMOND AND ROCK CRYSTAL SILVER-TOPPED GOLD-MOUNTED ‘SNOWFLAKE’ BROOCH

BY FABERGÉ, WORKMASTER ALBERT HOLMSTR?M, DESIGNED BY ALMA PIHL, ST PETERSBURG, CIRCA 1913

Details
A VERY RARE DIAMOND AND ROCK CRYSTAL SILVER-TOPPED GOLD-MOUNTED ‘SNOWFLAKE’ BROOCH
BY FABERGÉ, WORKMASTER ALBERT HOLMSTR?M, DESIGNED BY ALMA PIHL, ST PETERSBURG, CIRCA 1913
A stylised six-pointed snowflake decorated with rose-cut diamonds, centring a brilliant-cut diamond, all set on a circular rock crystal panel, all within a rose-cut diamond-set border, gold pin, marked on pin and loop; in the original Fabergé wood case stamped ‘Fabergé St Petersburg Moscow London’ inside cover, also stamped ‘A Snowflake / from Russia / 1913’ on cover
1 1/8 in. (2.9 cm.) diameter
Provenance
A gift from Emanuel Nobel to the wife of one of his business associates.
Anonymous sale; Hagelstam, 3 December 2000, lot 320.
Acquired at the above by the father of the present owner.
Literature
A. Tillander, Fabergé and his Contemporaries, Helsinki, 1980, p. 93, no. 93 (illustrated).
G. von Habsburg, Fabergé, Munich, 1986 – 1987, p. 141, no. 111 (illustrated).
S. Barten, Carl Fabergé: Kostbarkeiten russischer Goldschmiedekunst der Jahrhundertwende, Zurich, 1989, p. 114, no. 190 (illustrated).
K. Kaurinkoski, et al., Pietarin Kultainen Katu, Helsinki, 1991, p. 122 (illustrated).
G. von Habsburg, M. Lopato, Fabergé: Imperial Jeweller, Milan, 1993, p. 305, no. 181 (illustrated).
U. Tillander-Godenhielm, Smycken: Från Det Kejserliga S:t Petersburg, Helsinki, 1996, p. 169, no. 178 (illustrated).
M. Saloniemi, U. Tillander-Godenhielm, T. Boettger, The Era of Fabergé, Tampere, 2006, pp. 119, 167, no. 98 (illustrated).
Exhibition catalogue, Fabergé and the Russian Jewellers, London, Wartski, 2006, p. 113, no. 294 (illustrated).
U. Tillander-Godenhielm, Fabergé: ja hänen suomalaiset mestarinsa, Helsinki, 2008, p. 243 (illustrated).
U. Tillander-Godenhielm, Fabergén suomalaiset mestarit, Hämeenlinna, 2011, p. 159 (illustrated).
U. Tillander-Godenhielm, Jewels from Imperial St Petersburg, London, 2012, pp. 242, 245 (illustrated).
M. Moehrke, Unknown Fabergé: New Finds and Re-discoveries, Minneapolis, 2016, pp. 78-79, no. 41 (illustrated).
Exhibited
Helsinki, The Museum of Applied Arts, Fabergé and his Contemporaries, 1980, no. 93.
Munich, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Fabergé, 5 December 1986 – 8 March 1987, no. 111.
Zurich, Museum Bellerive, Carl Fabergé: Kostbarkeiten russischer Goldschmiedekunst der Jahrhundertwende, 31 May – 3 September 1989, no. 190.
St Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum; Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs; London, Victoria & Albert Museum, Fabergé: Imperial Jeweller, 18 June 1993 – 10 April 1994, no. 181.
Helsinki, Smycken: Från Det Kejserliga S:t Petersburg, 1995, no. 178.
Washington DC, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Fabergé and Finland: Exquisite Objects, 1996.
Stockholm, Christie’s, 1996.
Lahti, The Lahti Art Museum, Fabergé: Loistavaa kultasepäntaidetta, 14 March – 4 May 1997.
Tampere, Museums in Finland and Moscow Kremlin Museum, The Era of Fabergé, 17 June – 1 October 2006, no. 98.
London, Wartski, Fabergé and the Russian Jewellers, 10 – 20 May 2006, no. 294.
Shanghai, Christie’s, October 2014.
Minneapolis, The Museum of Russian Art, Unknown Fabergé: New Finds and Re-discoveries, 8 October 2016 – 26 February 2017, no. 41.

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Alexis de Tiesenhausen
Alexis de Tiesenhausen

Lot Essay

Fabergé Frost Flowers
Designed by Alma Pihl and executed by Albert Holmström, this brooch typifies Fabergé’s famous frost designs, which are amongst the most imaginative produced by the firm. Alma Pihl’s ingenious idea to preserve transient ice flowers by transforming them in rose-cut diamonds and rock crystal directly resulted from the visit of Dr Emanuel Nobel, a successful businessman and director of the Nobel oil empire, to Fabergé in January 1911.

Nobel required forty small pieces of jewellery, which he planned to tuck into white linen napkins at his company parties. As the original gold-stamped cover of the fitted case for the present Fabergé brooch suggests, these were to be souvenirs from Russia for Nobel’s international clientele. The commission was to be completely unique, preferably take the form of brooches and employ high quality materials on a modest scale: gifts for female members of Nobel family parties were to delight not entice. Alma Pihl was placed in charge of this expedited order (U. Tillander-Godenhielm, Jewels from Imperial St Petersburg, London, 2012, p. 242).

Alma Pihl (1888-1976) was largely self-taught and the creative genius behind both the frost and mosaic designs. Her mother Fanny Holmström was the daughter of Fabergé’s workmaster, August Holmström, and her father Oscar Pihl was head of Fabergé’s jewellery workshop in Moscow. In 1908, at the age of twenty, Alma started work as a cost accountant with her uncle Albert Holmström, who succeeded his father as Fabergé’s head jeweller in St Petersburg. In her spare time, Pihl sketched designs of her own. Her ability to create beautiful and innovative designs was quickly noticed and soon her work became part of Fabergé’s stock book (U. Tillander-Godenhielm, op. cit.).

Alma Pihl’s work on Dr Nobel’s commission began immediately following his visit in January. While searching for inspiration, she famously gazed out of her frost covered workshop window and noticed ice fractals forming, ‘like a garden of exquisite frozen flowers’ (U. Tillander-Godenhielm, op. cit.). The shimmering, intricate delicacy of these ice flowers gave her the idea to transform rock crystal, tiny diamonds, gold and platinized silver into six different brooch designs.

Fabergé’s workshop transformed Pihl’s frost sketches into thirty-seven brooches. An extant page from the stock books of Albert Holmström’s workshop, dated 27 August 1914, gives a sense of the subtly varied idea behind Alma Pihl’s original design: each six-armed frost design branches in ever so slightly different ways (K. Snowman, Fabergé: Lost and Found, London, 1993, p. 158). To the right of each drawing the words ‘silver, gold, platinized’ appear indicating that the base of each pin was constructed in gold, then topped with a silver-platinum alloy and set with a variety of rose-cut diamonds. During the period, works incorporating platinum were not hallmarked, thus explaining the lack of a workmaster’s or assay mark on the present brooch (K. Snowman, op. cit., pp. 14-15).

By including a rock crystal surround for the delicate diamond-set arms of the ‘frost flower’, the design of the present brooch is more sophisticated than the sketches and some other known examples. The skill required to incorporate rock crystal into the design is detailed in the memoirs of Franz Birbaum, in which he discusses the specific difficulties of mounting rock crystal: ‘Its friability demanded of the craftsmen a particular skill, and its setting was entrusted only to the most experienced workmaster. It could not tolerate the slightest heat and the settings were never soldered, even with thin tin, but were assembled with clips and in other ways.’ (‘Birbaum Memoirs’, G. von Hapsburg, M. Lopato, Fabergé: Imperial Jeweller, London, 1993, p.457).

The work involved in creating these frost-inspired brooches was rewarded with Nobel’s immense enthusiasm and he even purchased exclusive rights to Alma Pihl’s design concept. In addition to distributing ‘frost flower’ souvenirs at company parties, Nobel also commissioned brooches and related frost-jewels inspired by them for more personal purposes; they were often given out at large family gatherings, notably to Nobel family brides at their weddings (U. Tillander-Godenhielm, op. cit.).

The success of Alma’s frost-inspired designs for Nobel was widespread and, as the stock books reveal, variations of the design continued to be made for several years in her uncle's Fabergé workshop.

In 1913, the same year as the present brooch was produced, the Imperial Court asked Dr Nobel to lend his rights to Fabergé’s ‘frost flower’ design for the celebratory jewellery that commemorated the Romanov Tercentenary. This led to Alma’s famous design for the magnificent Fabergé Winter Egg, which was given as a present from Emperor Nicholas II to his mother, Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna for Easter 1913 (sold Christie’s, Geneva, 16 November 1994, lot 464, and Christie’s, New York, 19 April 2002, lot 150). During the same period, Alma’s frost designs for Dr Nobel reached their apogee in the closely related Nobel Ice Egg, which now forms part of the McFerrin Collection in Houston, TX.

The Nobel Family
The Nobel Brothers Petroleum Production Company was founded in 1879 in Baku, and became one of the largest oil-producing companies in the world at the time.

Following the death of his father in 1888, Dr Emanuel Nobel (1859-1932), took over leadership of the family business. He was responsible for the introduction of the Nobel Diesel engine and under his direction the Company continued to flourish. His successes in the industry were noted by Emperor Alexander III, who requested that he accept Russian citizenship in 1891.

Emanuel Nobel is considered one of Fabergé's most important clients. According to Franz Birbaum: 'E. Nobel, one of the kings of oil, was so generous in his presents that at times it seemed that this was his chief occupation and delight. Orders were constantly being made for him in the [Fabergé] workshops and from time to time he came to have a look at them. Often, he only decided for whom the present should be when the work was finished.' (Birbaum Memoirs’, G. von Hapsburg, M. Lopato, Fabergé: Imperial Jeweller, London, 1993, p. 454).

Six months before the October Revolution in 1917, which led to the nationalisation of the company in 1920, Nobel Brothers announced record profits. By this time the Nobels owned, controlled or had important interests in companies employing 50,000 workers, producing one-third of the total domestic oil consumption. In the summer of 1919, Emanuel left Russia with his family to settle in Sweden.

It is very rare for a snowflake brooch, in good condition and with its original fitted case, to appear at auction. A comparable brooch was sold Christie's, Geneva, 15 November 2007, lot 261.

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