CHAPTER 1: The World of Pavel
“It was certainly a serendipitous moment,” recalled Tatiana Fabergé with a light smile on her face. “I was in Moscow and called to the Kremlin Armoury Museum. On the table were two old battered candy tins that they were about to open. Their contents were unbelievable. They had been discovered under a windowsill at a typical early 19th century Moscow mansion in Solyanka Street.”
Pavel Ivanovich Kharitonenko had bought the Moscow mansion in 1909. Known as the ‘Sugar King’ because of his wealth from growing sugar beet, he was one of Russia’s richest men.
Pavel was also a great patron of artists of the time, collecting work by Ilya Repin, Valentin Serov and significant French painters. The portrait paintings of Ilya Repin, Fyodor Schectel, Mikhail Vrubel, Isaac Levitan, Mikhail Larionov and Valentin Serov hang along the walls in this highly detailed first illustration by the artist Moussa Saleh.
The Sugar King’s impeccable tastes led him to strike up a friendship with the great Sergei Diaghilev, founder of the Ballet Russes, and form a true appreciation for the work of Carl Peter Fabergé, the celebrated jeweller. This first of five illustrations holds the clues to Pavel’s connections to these legendary figures.
CHAPTER 2: The Moscow Mansion
“Of course the Sugar King was a client of Fabergé,” Tatiana explained.
“Anybody who was anybody made purchases from Fabergé, a person with the Sugar King’s wealth would lavish jewels from the master jeweller on loved ones.” She continued, “But what I did not know at the time of the discovery was that Vladimir Averkiev, a member of the Moscow branch of Fabergé, lived in an apartment at the Solyanka Street mansion with his Chinese partner.”
Pavel’s giant-like status is illustrated here with an open mouth and the offering of an abundance of opulent jewels to the love of his life, wife Viera. The style of décor in the room reflects the Art Nouveau period and the jovial personality of Averkiev is cheekily portrayed in the background.
CHAPTER 3: Last Splendour
The Sugar King and Viera, like many wealthy Russians prior to the Revolution, continued their privileged lives without noticing the mounting unrest in the country. Surrounded by beautiful objects, they were cocooned in their world of wealth and decadence – the cracks and fractures of their situation remaining unobserved.
Viera’s world was finally shattered in 1914 when her beloved Pavel died and she was left in trust of the Kharitonenko treasures.
CHAPTER 4: The Russian Revolution
1914 was also the start of difficult times for Fabergé. World War I meant that many of the craftsmen and workers were required to join the military, and the demand for fine jewels diminished. The firm began to produce copper articles such as cruets, plates, mugs and snuff boxes. The workshops also made syringes as well as equipment for the military, including grenades. Fabergé became increasingly concerned about the situation in Russia. After the Revolution, when matters became chaotic, senior members of staff in St Petersburg were given small packets of jewels to hide in locations well away from the Fabergé premises.
Viera’s close acquaintance with Averkiev made it possible for some of her most valuable jewellery to be hidden away in a stash of treasures within the Kharitonenko Moscow mansion.
These times were very frightening for the high society, emphasised in this Communist poster-style illustration by the blood red colour – symbolic of the passion that fuelled the feared downfall of the Romanov Empire. The fierce strength of Communist power is seen crushing and destroying the light, naïve world that was before with a mighty blow.
“Your world is turning its back on you” is boldly stated in Russian next to the view of Averkiev hiding the candy tins of jewels.
CHAPTER 5: The Discovery
“It was all very exciting. The two tins were wrapped in a pre-Revolution poster. One of them had a dent in the lid – caused by the Bolsheviks breaking into the mansion by smashing the window and climbing in over the windowsill under which the treasure was hidden! If only they knew how close they were to treasure. When the lids were opened both were full of jewellery pieces of the highest quality, sparkling as if they had just been lifted from a display cabinet. Some even had their price tags attached.
There was a beautiful sapphire and diamond pendant. The beautifully rich blue sapphires are not only invisibly set, but are placed on a flexible elongated eclipse of gold that ends in a pendeloque-cut diamond. Who said that invisible settings were invented in the 1930s?” she asked, adding, “Fabergé was – and always will be – ahead of the times.”
The impact of the Revolution has left so many questions unanswered. Averkiev was arrested by the secret police in 1927 and has not been heard of since – we can only speculate as to his fate. As for Mr Lee, he simply vanished. What we do know is that the 21 fine gold-and-platinum jewels set with diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and large, white, grey and black pearls were divided between the Kremlin Armoury Museum and the Russian State Depository of Valuables (Gokhran). When the mansion was sadly demolished, it revealed no more secrets.
The final illustration in this series evokes the eternal allure of Fabergé. The candy tins lie in an etched whirl of jewels, prized open for the poetry and high craftsmanship within to again illuminate, this time in the modern world.
Now the question is, how many more stashes of Fabergé jewels that were hidden in 1918 are waiting to be found? Only time will tell…