Saturday, June 8, 2013

Gifts of Grandeur: The Famous (or Infamous) Fabergé Cigarette Case, 1908

Cigarette Case
Enamel, Diamonds, Gold
The Royal Collection

Ah, the Royals are a sophisticated bunch, really. In 1908, the Honorable Mrs. George Keppel (Alice, also the great-grandmother of Camilla, The Duchess of Cornwall) presented this cigarette case of two-color gold, guilloché enamel, brilliant and rose-cut diamonds by Fabergé to King Edward VII. You see Alice was the favorite of the King’s many mistresses. I wonder if it was because she had good taste in cigarette cases.

One of Fabergé’s finest examples of the Art Nouveau style, the case features a sinuous diamond-set snake which wraps around both the front and reverse of the box. It’s quite striking set against one of the most spectacular enamel colors in the history of Fabergé. Of course, the design was not purely decorative. A snake biting its own tale was a symbol of unrelenting and eternal love. A sweet gesture had it not come from the King’s mistress.

And, here comes the odd part. This is one of the only items in the Royal Collection to be presented to the Crown twice. You see, in 1910, shortly after the death of King Edward VII, his widow, Queen Alexandra, gave the case back to Alice Keppel. Some say she gave it back so she wouldn’t be reminded, some insist she returned it quite amicably so that Mrs. Keppel would have a memento of the late King. Since Alexandra knew of Edward’s many lady friends, she was certainly acquainted with Alice. So, who knows her real reasons?

Twenty-five years later, in 1936, Mrs. Keppel presented the same case to Queen Mary (who doubtlessly admired it and who had an impressive collection of her own Fabergé), to make sure that the case would always have Royal ownership.

Very sophisticated.

1 comment:

Keely Brown said...

Great post, Joseph!

Actually, Queen Alexandra and Mrs. Keppel were quite friendly with one another, and when the King lay dying, Alexandra expressly invited Alice to come and sit by his bedside and tell him goodbye.

Both of these ladies were class acts!