Summer visit 1st June 2016
Our summer visit this year was a trip to Birmingham to hear a talk by John Morehouse
‘A guided Tour round Fabergés workshops’ kindly hosted by the Birmingham School of Jewellery. The lecture was scheduled for 2pm allowing time for our members to visit the Birmingham Museum to view the “Charles Clay” musical organ clock, details of which can be found on the AHS blog at http://blog.ahsoc.org/?p=2316.
“Charles Clay” musical organ clock
After viewing this magnificent clock we spent some time perusing the “Staffordshire Hoard” .
John’s talk was well attended by ourselves and students from the school.
John initially explained his credentials – researching the Fabergé company, studying the Fabergé products and making similar types of items using the same techniques.
After setting the background of the family involved, John described how the company grew by helping able workmasters to set up a number of autonomous workshops making items to Faberge’s designs. These were mostly amalgamated in 1900 in St Petersburg into larger premises. The company grew to employ a total of 500 people as well as buying in services such as hardstone carving and box making from outside suppliers.
The main types of products were shown: hardstone carvings, table silverware, domestic items, jewellery, and many very challenging special commissions. The working practices, ethos and customs were described drawing upon the published memoirs of former head designer Franz Birbaum. In the workshops, which had only very basic equipment, the journeymen primarily specialised in one aspect of the manufacture, such as engraving lettering, and thereby achieved very high standards.
John explained how a whole range of different personal ‘must have‘ items of the day were essentially manufactured in a similar way - engine turned surfaces of various geometries were covered in fired enamel (guilloche) to which additional decoration and framing was added. He showed how bulk production of some components was adopted. He outlined the practice and reasons for using only solder as the means of attachment when other methods of attachment were impracticable. He also showed where the use of classical motifs was used in the designs of many products. A number of components and finished Fabergé style items were passed around the audience so that they could closely appreciated the type and style of work at first hand. Unfortunately we had to give them back!
The talk was a rare insight into the people and processes behind the scenes in the Fabergé workshops which were the some of the keys to their success.
John’s egg or as he calls it a Fobergé egg
Close-up of the bird automaton
Immediately after the talk, John and Mike Durham, local AHS members, both showed their enamelled and decorated eggs including the singing bird mechanism John had made to fit inside his own. These were enthusiastically examined by those present.
John Morehouse describing to Brian Coles (W&MHS member) the details of his bird automaton
From left to right Brian Coles, John Morehouse and Jeremy Hobbins (deputy head of school and head of horology).
Mike Durham’s enamelled egg manufactured by Andreea Design (firstname.lastname@example.org)