Get a peek at bejewelled wonders from Fabergé in Doha

Relaunched with much pomp two years ago, Fabergé is making its Middle East debut this week at the Doha Jewellery Fair.

Fabergé's Romanov necklace.
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Fabergé: it's an illustrious name in jewellery that conjures images of exquisite Russian Imperial treasures, including the 50 famous Fabergé eggs, collected avidly by the rich and the royal. By the late 20th century, however, the once-glorious name had been licensed out by its then owners and lent to everyday items as varied as aftershave and Barbie. Even while those antique eggs reached astronomical prices at auction, it seemed unlikely that the industrious, imaginative workshops of Fabergé would ever be revived to make new pieces.

But that has all changed and at the Doha Jewellery & Watches exhibition, which starts today and runs until February 27, a diamond and emerald necklace of exceptional beauty and ingenuity, called the Romanov, will make its debut. It will be presented by the new incarnation of Fabergé, which was relaunched in 2009 by Pallinghurst, with the help of the Fabergé Heritage Council and members of the family including Tatiana and Sarah Fabergé, both great-granddaughters of Peter Carl Fabergé.

This time around, Fabergé has stripped back the licences (only a watch licence remains), and established a model of handcrafting one-off pieces, which take months to produce in tiny workshops around Europe and are priced accordingly. It's a similar approach to that of the original Fabergé, which, says Géza von Habsburg, one of the world's leading Fabergé authorities, was based on "the Russian craftsman's unique combination of incomparable inventive genius, superlative craftsmanship and excellent organisational and marketing skills".

The Romanov is a perfect example. Part of the Saisons Russes collection, this glittering collar contains 2,225 gems totalling 363.48 carats, with 79 polished emeralds ethically sourced by Gemfields (also owned by Pallinghurst) from just one mine in Zambia: 1,991 round white diamonds, 151 rose-cut diamonds, one rose diamond and a 3.48-carat pear-shaped rose-cut diamond. It is a modern take on a gouache Fabergé archive design of 1885, and is as versatile and complex as a piece of original Fabergé, being detachable into a collar, a simple choker or a choker with the emerald pendant, as well as being worn in its full glory. Crucially, it is a piece so hype-worthy that loans for special clients attending the Academy Awards are reputedly already being discussed. Angelina Jolie's name has been mentioned.

"I found this design and thought, let's see if we can do something that is a bit lighter and more contemporary," says Katherine Flohr, the brand's creative director. "It's like lace when you wear it. We've established such wonderful relationships [with our workshops] that even if a piece is extremely complicated we see it as a challenge."

We know a lot about what the people who collected Fabergé were like: the doomed, extravagant, tragic royal House of Romanov, for example, which ruled Russia and its empire until the Revolution in 1917, has inspired films and literature, and the family's sad ending - executed together by the Bolsheviks in 1918 - adds a poignancy to the treasures that remain. The 50 famous Imperial eggs were gifts of love: "Ten were produced for Tsar Alexander III between 1885 and 1894 as presents for his Danish-born wife, Empress Maria Feodorovna," explains von Habsburg. "The remaining 40 eggs were crafted between 1895 and 1916 for Tsar Nicholas II as presents for his mother and for his wife, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna."

That first egg, the Hen Egg, inspired by a German 18th-century example, was simple by Fabergé standards: in gold, it was enamelled to look like an eggshell, which opened to reveal a gold yolk; the yolk contained a beautifully chased golden hen, which opened at the tail to show a miniature diamond crown from which was suspended a ruby egg.

"They became more and more lavish and expensive over the years, some of them taking the Fabergé firm up to two years to produce," says von Habsburg.

"Fabergé and the egg: it's hard to think of one without the other," says Sarah Fabergé. "The egg is symbolic of life and rebirth in so many different cultures and it is a universal symbol, so it is easy for everyone to identify with."

Yet it was only with the rebooted Fabergé's second collection that 12 one-off high-jewellery eggs have been produced - albeit using the most astonishing techniques. Flohr, in fact, decided to launch without eggs, instead showcasing the craftsmanship of the jewellers she was working with, including the talented young Parisian jeweller Frédéric Zaavy, who died late last year.

"He made some of the most iconic pieces for Fabergé, amongst others a very beautiful firebird and seahorse that are just out of this world. It wasn't about eggs at all!" exclaims Flohr. "Fabergé was foremost a jeweller, and obviously made extremely marvellous, fabulous, whimsical creations for his clients, amongst which were, of course, eggs."

The sources for that inspiration are many and varied, from Russian history to Diaghilev's work with Fauvist painters. Tatiana, Flohr and Zaavy undertook a trip to the Fabergé former home near St Petersburg, now derelict - Flohr's pictures of the trip are all Dr Zhivago-style romantic decay - and a four-leafed clover found in the grass there served as the model for one ring. "Tatiana is our living archive," says Flohr. "She has the greatest wealth of knowledge in terms of the workmasters, the techniques. For us it's all about storytelling, emotional engagement, the feeling that you have when you hold something and are fascinated, and turn it over, and think, 'how did they do that?' "

So can the 30 workshops with whom they are collaborating match that hitherto peerless standard - that "relentless pursuit of innovation and artistry" as Sarah Fabergé puts it? Von Habsburg, the expert, puts it simply: "Their workmanship is exemplary."

And that's all you need to know.

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