A Faberge trick in an egg

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THE FABERGE exhibition which opened at the Victoria & Albert Museum last week demonstrates how two 19th-century jewellers, Carl Faberge and his brother Agathon, seduced high society with exquisitely crafted objects made in their St Petersburg workshops. Few people in Britain are aware, however, that Theo Faberge, Carl's illegitimate grandson, and his daughter, Sarah, are trying to pull the same trick from a base in London's Burlington Arcade.

A private viewing of the V&A exhibition, which has been arranged for their clients and friends on 10 February, is clearly designed to underline the family connection. A ticket for the party, which is to raise money for charity, costs pounds 45 - or pounds 150 if you want 'a sumptuous dinner' afterwards at the Kaspia restaurant with champagne, vodka and the company of the charity organiser Princess Helena Gagarina-Moutafian.

Theo and Sarah's products, fancy items of indifferent craftsmanship in vaguely Russian style, are marketed as the 'St Petersburg Collection'. Eggs designed by Theo, which are made in editions of up to 750, are priced at around pounds 2,500 a time.

Prices for items from Carl Faberge's workshops start at around pounds 500 and virtually all of them were one-offs. Only very rich and rare productions sell for huge prices - such as the Easter eggs made for the tsars, a couple of which have topped the pounds 1m mark.

Theo's English mother, who changed her name from Doris to Dorise, is thought to have met Carl Faberge's son Nicholas at a Chelsea Arts Ball. Theo was born on 26 September, 1922 and brought up by Dorise's sister.

For 47 years he lived, unknowing, under the name Theodore Woodall and became an aero-engineer. Then, in 1969, an indiscreet aunt suggested he wrote to Somerset House for his birth certificate and all was revealed.

'I changed my name,' he said. 'I didn't have to do it by deed poll or anything. I just had to swear it in front of a solicitor and publish it in the Daily Telegraph.' The discovery had an unsettling effect, making him want to do something artistic. He started with a part-time course in silversmithing, then learned wood-turning. In 1974, during the 'winter of discontent', he sold his engineering business and became an antiques restorer, making wood and ivory objects on the side.

'People kept saying to me, 'you're a Faberge, you should be making eggs',' Theo said, and he finally gave in. In 1981 a turned, wooden egg which he had exhibited at a craft exhibition at Goldsmiths Hall was bought by a banker-journalist called John Andrew; he was intrigued by Theo's story and wrote it up in Executive World, a British Airways magazine.

The unexpected consequence of the article was the arrival of the marketing specialist Philip Birkenstein. He said to Theo: 'Why don't you start Faberge up again?' The 'St Petersburg Collection designed by Theo Faberge' was launched in 1985: they couldn't use the name 'Faberge' since it is copyrighted. The joint venture is owned by Birkenstein and Theo.

Theo designs all the objects, which are then made by craftsmen and small specialist companies across the country - Theo does some of the wood-turning and silversmithing himself. His favourite materials are wood and glass - which Birkenstein calls lead crystal - but the pieces are often mounted with gilt metal. Enamels and engine-turning to pattern the surfaces are also used, and a few precious stones. A Russian imperial crown made from gilt metal and set with a tiny ruby is used as an ornamental knop on the top of most of the eggs.

Sales are mostly through American department stores and jewellers, such as Marshall Field in Chicago.

In November 1993 a new range of decorative objects designed by Sarah was launched at Marshall Field. It is to be introduced in London later this year.

(Photograph omitted)