Tips of the Trade
Detecting Fabergé Fakes
Fabergé fakes are a dime a dozen.
Fabergé made more than eggs.
Fabergé colors are often rich and subtle.
This forged Fabergé bell pusher doesn't work.
It's hard to match the quality of Fabergé.
Fabergé expert Peter Schaffer, of A La Vieille Russie, Inc. in New York City, remembers the phone call. The man on the line explained that a silver elephant was to go on sale online in 20 minutes. The elephant's seller had told him that Schaffer had verified the piece as an authentic Fabergé.
Peter Schaffer shares a few tips on making sure that if Fabergé is what you want, Fabergé is what you get
"I told him, I didn't, I wouldn't and I couldn't verify it," Schaffer remembers. The man said the elephant he coveted was estimated at $850. Schaffer informed him that an even smaller elephant had recently sold at auction for $65,000. "I told him, 'If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true.'"
"People want a piece so badly they sometimes overlook the obvious," he adds. "And that's dangerous with something advertised as Fabergé." Below, Schaffer shares a few tips on making sure that if Fabergé is what you want, Fabergé is what you get.
Many Fabergés, Many Fakes
The vast number of pieces produced by the master jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé makes it hard to sort the real pieces from the wanna-bes. And, while most of us associate Fabergé with the bejeweled eggs he made, his product line was as wide as his reputation.
"He had a monstrous operation," Schaffer notes. "At his peak, he had about 700 people working for him in his factory. Over his lifetime, he made in excess of a quarter-million pieces."
"There's almost nothing he didn't make," Schaffer explains, noting that Fabergé made flatware as well as copper and brass pewter. He mounted some of his objects on paper maché bases and others on wood. He even took some objects from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries (some of which were broken) and repackaged them using his own designs.
Almost as prolific as Fabergé himself are the forgers who have tried to make money by borrowing his name. "It's always back to the money game," Schaffer says. "There are a lot of Fabergé fakes because people think they can sell them for a good, hefty sum."
Look and Listen
First and foremost, says Schaffer, any potential buyer should become familiar with Fabergé's look and feel.
"See and touch as many Fabergé pieces as you can," he recommends. "If you allow the pieces to talk to you, detecting fakes is not as mysterious as people think. Fabergé imbued his personality into his pieces. People who make fakes do the same."
The master craftsman often layered his colors, giving them a richness of tone that is extremely difficult to copy. "Fabergé's hot pink is different from everybody else's hot pink." explains Schaffer. "And so are his whites."
Another piece of advice from Schaffer: read the descriptions that accompany a piece. Hard as it is to believe, some of the forgers don't do the research needed to write an accurate description. If you have suspicions about the write-up, Schaffer notes, you should have suspicions about the piece.
The Magical Touch
One of Fabergé's talents was producing not only beautiful pieces but ones that weren't clunky. His pieces were almost always fine-crafted and light. Fakes feel heavy in comparison, Schaffer explains.
"One of the things that's fairly obvious with most fakes is that they have sharp or rough edges," he says. He once picked up a fake that caught on his finger at the point which the diamond was attached and just hung there. "A real Fabergé would never do that," he notes.
Since the provenance of a Fabergé piece is often difficult to trace, many collectors look to a piece's marks for verification. Bad idea, says Schaffer. Marks are now made with lasers that can trace a real Fabergé mark onto a fake piece. "You just can't trust them," he asserts.
A New Fabergé is Not an Old Fabergé
Schaffer says that the novice can also be confused by Fabergé pieces that are made today. The jeweler Victor Mayer, for example, has a contract with Fabergé, the perfume maker, and has the right to use the name on porcelain plates and other Fabergé look-alikes.
"Mayer may be talented," Schaeffer says, "but the real Fabergé pieces ended when the man passed away in 1920."The point, notes Schaffer, is the quality must be in a piece, regardless of the name that's on it.
"You remember those old Volkswagen bugs that had the Rolls Royce hoods?" he asks. "Well, they were still Volkswagen bugs."
For more on Fabergé, Peter Schaffer recomends:
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia
Forbes Magazine Gallery in New York City
More ANTIQUES ROADSHOW Tips from the Pottery & Porcelain category:
Firing Miss Daisy: What Happened at Wedgwood? (Houston, 2006)
Next of Kiln: The Overbeck Sisters (Houston, 2006)
What's the Word: Garniture? (Houston, 2006)
School of Mines Pottery
The Tafoyas: Legends of Pueblo Pottery (St. Paul, 2005)
What's the Value of Research? (St. Paul, 2005)
How Much to Buy "Spring"? (Portland, 2005)
How to Be a Porcelain Pro
Dennis Gaffney is a freelance writer in Albany, New York. He has been a regular contributor to ANTIQUES ROADSHOW Online since 1998.