Branded Deluxe: The resurrection of Fabergé (Column)

Mark Tungate is based in Paris. His column from the capital of fashion and luxury appears regularly. Fabergé proved to be a difficult egg to crack. The venerable brand was acquired by a London-based investment group called Pallinghurst Resources a few years back, and they favour discretion. The Fabergé website is one of those slick […]

Mark Tungate is based in Paris. His column from the capital of fashion and luxury appears regularly.

Fabergé proved to be a difficult egg to crack. The venerable brand was acquired by a London-based investment group called Pallinghurst Resources a few years back, and they favour discretion. The Fabergé website is one of those slick but opaque affairs that offers nothing in the way of press contacts other than a “press@fabergé” address. But I wasn’t about to give up.

I already knew a little about the history of Fabergé. Most of us are vaguely aware of the details: Peter Carl Fabergé, born in St Petersburg on 30 May 1836, took over his father’s jewelry business and became a provider of glittering trinkets to the Tsars. Including, of course, the legendary eggs.

That tradition began in the Easter of 1885—Easter being the key celebration in the Russian Orthodox calendar. Tsar Alexander III commissioned Fabergé to make an exceptional gift for his wife, the Tsarina Maria Feodorovna. The result was a masterpiece: an enameled egg containing a golden yolk. Within the yolk, a golden hen – and within that, a miniature of the imperial crown, encrusted with diamonds, and an egg-shaped ruby. After that, a new egg was delivered every year. The House of Fabergé grew into a global luxury brand, with branches in Moscow, Odessa, Kiev and London.

The revolution literally killed the golden hen. Fabergé was forced to abandon everything as he fled with his family, beginning a long and wearying journey across Europe that ended in his death in 1920. He is buried in Cannes, France. His sons Eugene and Alexander attempted to resurrect the business, founding Fabergé & Son in Paris. But their energy was sapped by a legal wrangle with a perfume salesman, Samuel Rubin, who named his fragrance business Fabergé Inc. because of the romance that swirled around the name. Eventually, he licensed the brand from the surviving members of the family. Then he sold it again, in 1964, to a group named McGregor.

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By the 1970s Fabergé was better known for cheap toiletries than expensive jewels. Among its products was a men’s fragrance called Brut, whose scent is as subtle as its name suggests. My grandfather wore Brut—a Cockney sheet metal worker, he was about as far from the original target market of Fabergé as it’s possible to imagine.

Fabergé was owned by Unilever when Pallinghurst Resources acquired the brand in 2007. The group began working to rehabilitate the Fabergé name, launching its first range of jewelry a couple of years later, attracting widespread media coverage.

So what’s been happening since then? Finally, by going through the Pallinghurst head office in London, I caught up with a PR spokesperson at Fabergé.

She describes Fabergé’s strategy as “top down.” And indeed the rebranding does seem to have embraced a wide range of tactics. At the top end are its sumptuous boutiques: three of them in Dubai alone. An entry-level trinket will cost you upwards of $4,500, while the superb Romanov necklace will set you back around $5.5 million. You can shop for the less expensive pieces via the brand’s site. But for showcase pieces and special commissions, Fabergé promises to fly a sales advisor to you anywhere in the world.

Naturally, the brand has run glossy magazine advertising in Vanity Fair, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar—the usual suspects. Yet it has also sent a fleet of Fabergé-branded black taxis tooling around London to tempt the aspiring masses.

In its latest coup, the brand will “take over” Harrods this April. Inside, there will be a pop-up boutique and an “Egg Bar” showcasing egg pendants, with an engraving service. An appointment-only exhibition will showcase, among other historic pieces, the 1901 Fabergé Apple Blossom Egg, seen for the first time in the U.K.

So what if you want to acquire one of the original jeweled eggs created for the Tsars? Only 50 of them were ever made. Queen Elizabeth owns three. There are 10 in the Kremlin. Most of the others are divided among wealthy collectors. But if you’re something of a sleuth, it may interest you to hear that eight have never been found.

Mark Tungate is based in Paris. His column from the capital of fashion and luxury appears regularly.

This story originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Marketing. For regular insights into the world of luxury marketing, subscribe to Marketing and check us out on your iPad.

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