From Russia With Love

on . Posted in Jewellery - The Opal Story

from russia with love
Both Fabergé of Saint Petersburg and  Marchak of Kiev were appointed jewellers to the Imperial court of Russia, they were competitors but also friends.
 Opal & The Russian Masters
Active Image Active Image Master jeweller Peter Carl Fabergé (1846–1920) crafted beautiful Objet d'art from precious metals and gems, including jewelled eggs for which the House of Fabergé is renowned. His original and extravagant creations captivated the elite of Russian society and the world, including the last two Tsars. One of Fabergé's many imaginative creations using Opals is a miniature gold and crystal gueridon, or pedestal table, that features a rock crystal top with inlaid, blue-green Opals of fiery iridescence within a gold beaded border (pictured right).

Most of Fabergé's ‘objets de fantaisie’ date from 1885, just after electrical systems became possible. Faberge's electric ‘bell pushes’ became an integral part of the Russian imperial family's interior décor. Fashionable and useful in middle-class as well as aristocratic households, bell pushes made it clear that the owner could afford both electricity and servants. Fabergé made them from the late 1880s until about 1917. Often the buttons were made of cabochon stones including Opals.


elephant-parrot-collageThe elephant 'bell push' pictured was made after 1903 and is carved from an Opal, it has ruby eyes, trappings of gold set with rubies, emeralds and diamonds. It stands upon a fringed carpet of red enamel over a gold ground with borders of diamonds, green enamel, and two cabochon rubies. The whole rests on a plinth of light green jade.

Carved from a single piece of white Opal and perched in a miniature yellow gold cage. The 'Parrot" is set with cabochon Siam ruby eyes and has red talons; the opal is itself a remarkable specimen showing many vivid tones of green, yellow and blue, as well as a bright flame colour in the feathers at the back. The cage has a removable gold wire netting and a drawer: there are two feeding bowls, one filled with gold seed.

Fabergé's lapidaries were prolific in their production of miniature animal carvings primarily made from stones found in the Ural Mountains and Siberia. The most commonly used stones were agate, chalcedony, nephrite jade, obsidian, rhodonite, rock crystal and topaz.


The best examples were very much more than mere naturalistic renderings from nature; they are the direct result of an agile intuition exploiting to the full the material available. A particularly striking example of this is provided by the Opal 'Parrot' which resides in a private US collection.

Both Fabergé of Saint Petersburg and Marchak of Kiev were appointed jewellers to the Imperial court of Russia, they were competitors but also friends.


Active ImageFabergé's younger contemporary Joseph Marchak (1854-1918) started his jeweller's apprenticeship at the age of 14. In 1878, he launched his own business. Within a little more than twenty years, Marchak was one the most important jewellers of the Russian Empire and the brand became a household name. To commemorate the 300th Anniversary of the Romanov Dynasty, Marchak presented Tsar Nicholas II with specially-made official gifts. Marchak now employed 150 artisans and was being referred to as “The Cartier of Kiev”, then outright rival of the famed Fabergé.

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Just as the newly discovered Australian Opal finds, Boulder and Black Opals, had broadened the pallette of the Art Nouveau style and jewellers of the times; so too Russia and her artists were having a great romantic and enlightening impact on Parisian fashion around the turn of the century.

With the onset of the Revolution in 1917, many Russians left their country in haste for Europe. Fabergé fled to London and the Marchak family fled to Paris, concealing the last remnants of their famed jewellery creations under their garments.

The “Roaring Twenties” arrived and the world emerged from the wake of WWI. It was time for exuberance, for mutations and changes. Women adopted short bobbed hair styles. Fanciful and colourful jewellery was in fashion. Jazz was the order of the day and the party was going full swing.


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Joseph's heir Alexander Marchak rapidly opened a shop on the famous Rue de La Paix, at number 4, right next to Place Vendôme and the Ritz Hotel. The House of Marchak was re-born at the turntable of the luxury industry, a most fitting location for the quality and originality of its creations, the neighborhood already hosted numerous renowned designers, a perfumer and many jewellers and goldsmiths, glove makers, shirt designers as well as hat makers all of which attracted swarms of well-heeled patrons from around the world.

Then war broke out again and Europe witnessed the decline of the whole luxury business. Similarly at the opposite end of the globe, after a quarter of a century of steady growth and development, the Opal industry entered a period of hibernation until a revival occurred in the late 1950's.


Active Image In 1961 Breakfast at Tiffany’s hit the big screen. The movie epitomized a whole generation. Young women from the highest echelons of American society loved luxury, fashion, jewels, stones, imposing sets that they dare wear in the mornings. Euphoria was the key word, nothing was too beautiful.


Jacques Verger, who was now Marchak's driving force, noticed it quite quickly and created luxurious colourful jewellery for his American customers. Marchak rings were worn high-up on the finger, paved with diamonds, and finely garlanded with emerald foliage or redcurrant rubies supporting a central red, green, blue stone or a multicoloured Opal, varying in accordance with the hues of the ring. Each piece was absolutely unique and made to the highest possible standards, the New York clients were thrilled and Parisian women were not long to follow this trend. Clustered undulating multicolored brooches made a success of the House of Marchak which entirely came from the charm of these “object-jewels” that clearly marked a break in the tradition of conventional French jewellery. Aesthetics and the use of colour were more important than the intrinsic value of the stones.

Jacques Verger met and became faithful friends with His Majesty Hassan II - The King of Morocco; they shared a taste for beautiful objects, unique and precious sets of jewels. The house of Marchak can also claim the distinction of being purveyors to the Sultan of Brunei.

After the death of Monsieur Verger the brand lost its driving force and all but disappeared. In 2003, one of the only heirs of Alexander Marchak decided to help revive the brand and a new collection was launched. The collection features some marvellous Opal jewels and has traveled around the world, to Russia, the United States, Japan and Australia. At Marchak an energetic edge has been regained under the elegant stewardship of Countess Dominique de Blanchard.

So it is that the fortunes of the Opal industry are somewhat reflected in those of a high end jewellery brand that has experienced magnificent periods of flourishing growth and revival after various crises and the passing of dynamic individuals. Proving that passion, joie de vivre, true colours and originality cannot be extinguished.

Sources & Image Credits:

CARL FABERGE, D.Kenneth Snowman, 1983. (Photo 1. 'Lillies of the Valley' Egg presented to Emperess Marie Feodorovna by Nicholas II, dated 5th April 1898.)

FABERGE AND HIS CONTEMPORARIES - The India Early Minshall Collection of The Cleveland Museum of Art, Henry Hawley, 1967. (Elephant)

FABERGE BELL PUSHES, Magazine Antiques, October 2000, James Hurtt.

FABERGE - THE FORBES MAGAZINE COLLECTION, Hermione Waterfield, c.1973 (Gueridon)

MARCHAK, Marguerite De Cerval, 2006. (Photos used with permission of Marchak Paris)

THE ART OF CARL FABERGE, A. Kenneth Snowman, 3rd Ed., 1962. (Quote & Parrot Photo)


Sue-White opals29 June 2013
Dear Rainbow Serpent,
Thank you for your email and membership.
It is great to know that you are out there promoting Australia's National gemstone & NSW emblem.
Keep up the good work, I love your concept.
Sue White - Orana Glitz & Glamour Extravaganza Inc Assn.

15 march 2013
Hi Peter,
Colourful characters are key,
your Facebook page and the photos look like there are some fantastic people!
We loved the look of Tarzan of Opalton.
Gemma Brady - Boundless

Alexander fink.PhysicsPHD opal28 Nov 2012
I would like to welcome your information page on opal,
with detailed information about nearly everything their is to know in a general term.
Alexander Fink PhD - Dept. of Physics La Trobe University

5 August 2010
Hi from another opal lover.
Just wanted to say I love your site, a wealth of information.
I always send people to your page for opal info.
Kind Regards
Sean Tapner - Planet Opal

8 july 2010
Dear Rainbow Serpent,
Will be recommending your website as a primary reference to 15 Macquarie Uni media students who will be doing a PR project for us as part of their assessment soon.
Best wishes
Renata - Opalminded

Opalminded recommend opalsinformation6 June 2010
Dear Rainbow Serpent, 
Greetings from Opal Minded In Sydney.
We are all very impressed with your website – one of the best things that has happened to this Industry for a long time. 
We would love to share it with the visitors to our website. 
Would you mind If we post with us links to your website, 
also on our facebook and twitter. 
Best wishes
Renata, John, Nelly, Fabrice and Summer

Fri, Apr 16, 2010 
Good Morning,
I have just found your wonderful website.
I produce a monthly e-newsletter which is circulated to the Tourism businesses in Coober Pedy and neighbouring stations plus the Info Centres around SA & the NT.
I wondered if I could use some of your Opal info in my October Edition (Opal Month), mainly the parts in your “About Opal” section – names, spiritual info etc.
I would obviously reference it to your website noting the address so others could read your site. 
Sandra Harris
Tourism Officer - Coober Pedy Information Centre

5 April 2010
I am wanting to use your site in an assignment as it is a superb example
of a site to use for a primary teaching unit on gemstones.
Many thanks,