New Book Chronicles the History of British Jewelry Firm Wartski

Wartski may not be a household name in the United States, but the British jewelry house, which boasts origins dating from 1865, was instrumental in bedecking generations of British royals and introducing Carl Fabergé’s incredible Imperial Easter Eggs to the world.

Now the venerable firm has published its history in a 300-plus page coffee table book written by Wartski’s managing director (and PBS Antiques Roadshow regular) Geoffrey Munn.

Wartski: The First One Hundred and Fifty Years tells the story of a small family business, founded by Polish immigrant Morris Wartski, that became one of the most enduring retailers in the U.K.

Courtesy Wartski

An opening page from Wartski: The First One Hundred and Fifty Years

Interwoven throughout the story is an array of full-color jewelry photos, along with fascinating images of historical figures who were fans of the brand, including the Marquess of Anglesey, John F. Kennedy, Noel Coward, Merle Oberon, Dame Margot Fonteyn, Tyrone Power, Ian Fleming, Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Hutton, Alec Guinness, poet Edith Sitwell, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Yul Brynner, Joan Rivers, Barbra Streisand, Sir Elton John, and Vivienne Westwood.

And an entire chapter of the book is devoted to European royal patronage. Wartski has created or sold pieces to six generations of the British royal family, including Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and Queen Elizabeth II. And more recently, the firm made the wedding rings for Prince Charles and Camilla Bowles. Wartski used Welsh gold to make the wedding bands for Catherine Middleton and Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge. 

Courtesy Wartski

A modern design from the firm

The brand’s story in the U.K. begins after the Wartski family fled from Poland to North Wales as refugees to become itinerant merchants. Thanks to a chance meeting with a local landowner, the famously eccentric Marquess of Anglesey, Morris Wartski was able to open his first retail shop in Bangor, Wales, in 1865.

The Wartskis moved the store to Llandudno, Wales, soon after, where King Edward VII became a loyal patron. Morris Wartski’s daughter, Harriette Wartski, married Emanuel Snowman, and the pair opened a location on New Bond Street in London in 1913.

Snowman had Russian roots, and the Russian Revolution of 1917 brought various collections of from Russia to England, among them a number of Carl Fabergé’s Imperial Easter Eggs and a gold chalice created for Catherine the Great. The Brits fell hard for the ornate eggs, and in London, Fabergé is synonymous with Wartski to this day.

Snowman’s son, Kenneth Snowman, published a number of books in Wartski’s name, including The Art of Carl Fabergé in 1953 and Eighteenth Century Gold Boxes of Europe in 1966.

And the business is still in the family. The current chairman of Wartski’s board of advisors is Morris Wartski’s great-grandson, Nicholas Snowman. And Nicholas’ son, Hector Snowman, is poised to take Nicholas’ place when he retires.

The firm differs from its (very few) contemporaries because it’s always been a promoter of the work of other artisans, in addition to fabricating its own collection.

And the book, currently selling for $125 at Amazon, paints a fascinating portrait of the 19th-century jewelry trade, while opening a window into the lavish lives of the brand’s illustrious clientele. 

JCK Magazine Editor