Theo Fabergé, 85

Theo Fabergé, the last surviving grandson of Russian imperial jeweler Carl Fabergé, died Aug. 20, in St Leonards-on-Sea, U.K. He was 85.

Carl Fabergé had 5 sons, the last of whom Nikolai—always referred to as Nicolas—was sent to England to represent the family business in 1903. When the Russian revolution took place Nicolas remained in London, and following the closure of the Bond Street shop established himself as one of England’s first fashion photographers. Nicolas’s only child Theo was born in 1922.

Theo Fabergé was brought up in Twickenham and served in the British Royal Air Force in North Africa during World War II. He established a successful engineering business in the 1960s.

He had developed an early interest in decorative objects and was a prolific craftsman long before he was aware of his ancestry. It was only in 1969 after a family funeral that he was given a clue as to his true origin. A visit to Somerset House confirmed his father’s identity and Theo, with his passion for objets d’art, found from his birth certificate that he was Theo Fabergé.

Theo Fabergé furthered his turning skills with an 1861 Holtzappfel ornamental lathe which he restored. He made an ivory casket for the Silver Jubilee in 1977, resulting in the award of the Gertrude Crawford Medal and in his election as Freeman Prizeman of the Worshipful Company of Turners. He developed techniques employing precious metals, enamel, and gemstones. He established a workshop but initially refused to make eggs in deference to his grandfather. It was only the chance comment “Why, Mr Fabergé, you’re making eggs!” by a visitor who saw him turning a piece of yew-wood as a gift for an 8-year old boy, that persuaded him. The result was an early collection of objets d’art, each one personally made by Theo Fabergé—even grandfather Carl had rarely crafted his fabulous creations himself.

Given complexities surrounding the use of the name Fabergé, “St Petersburg Collection,” was the name chosen in 1986 for the business established to represent Theo Fabergé’s designs and creations. With a Gallery at 42 Burlington Arcade, a stone’s throw away from Nicolas Fabergé’s premises, an enthusiastic group of collectors was formed and the production of small-series limited editions flourished. Marshall Field’s department store in Chicago witnessed the launch of the collection in U.S., which became a thriving market for Theo Fabergé, who made many visits to America where he was very popular. A proud moment in Theo’s career was when, accompanied by his daughter and grandson, he attended the White House for the launch of the White House Egg commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the building of the Presidential residence.

A quiet and unassuming man, Theo Fabergé’s modesty belied his delight both in his distinguished ancestry, and in his favourite craft of wood-turning. Determined never to copy his grandfather Carl, the first wristwatches in the family history contained the ultimate Fabergé surprise—unlike every other product in a strongly commercialized market-place, they bore no brand-name; just an egg in the guilloché enamelled dial, to reveal its provenance. Theo displayed his watches alongside a magnificent fobwatch made for the last Tsar by his grandfather, at his 80th birthday party in London at which the Worshipful Company of Turners of London presented him with their Honorary Liverydom—the first such award since Prime Minister Gladstone’s.

In 2003 Theo experienced the first of a series of small strokes and came to live in a home near his daughter and grandson. He maintained a keen interest in the art of turning.

His only daughter Sarah bears the Fabergé name, and continues the family tradition. In 2004, she officially opened the family’s first store in Russia since 1917. The store is located in St. Petersburg, just a few hundred meters from where Carl Fabergé was forced to give up his business to Bolshevik revolutionaries. The shop—called the St. Petersburg Collection “Grand Gallery”—sells the designs of Sarah and her father.