Sunday, December 23, 2012

Mastery of Design: An Automaton by Fabergé, circa 1900

Elephant Automaton
Carl Fabergé, circa 1900
Gold, Enamel, Silver, Ivory, Diamonds, Rubies
Presented to King George V by Queen Mary, 1929
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Here’s a peculiar and lovely little thing. When one thinks of Carl Fabergé, the mind immediately presents images of enameled and jeweled objects. That’s, indeed, what we have here. However, it’s got the added bonus of being an automaton.

Every so often, Fabergé would sneakily slip a jeweled automaton as a surprise into one of his celebrated eggs. This one, however, came all on its own. The gold and enamel figure of an elephant features silver details, rose-cut diamonds and cabochon rubies as well as ivory inlay. Wound with a key, the elephant “walks” by means of wee silver wheels in his elephant feet. He also swings his head back and forth and raises and lowers his trunk. His articulated tail will, occasionally, spin. He’s being “ridden” by a golden rider with an ivory turban.

This gorgeous automaton was given to King George V by Queen Mary (of Teck) for Christmas, 1929. Isn’t it wonderful? The elephant was kept in a vitrine with a collection of other Fabergé animals. (The others didn’t move.) Always organized, Queen Mary kept the box in which the elephant had been delivered and placed a detailed note inside the box which contained instructions on how to operate the automaton.

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