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In a world of sequels and homages, carbon copies and unashamed rip-offs, the word ‘unique’ is bandied around altogether too much nowadays.

There is one jewellery brand that comes to mind which is, however, truly deserving of the right to call itself unique. Fabergé is part traditional jewellery brand, part creator of its fabled objets deluxe – all centred around the motif of the famous Fabergé egg.

Even in the modern world – amid public financial statements, exhaustive Wikipedia pages and interviews much like this one – the company still holds an unusual amount of mystique to jewellery and art collectors and the wider public.

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The list of occasions on which Fabergé and its eggs have featured in pieces of popular culture – James Bond film Octopussy, The Simpsons, Ocean’s Twelve and Peaky Blinders to name but a few – is almost as long as the house’s history, which can be traced back to 1842 with the opening of the first Fabergé jewellery shop in St Petersburg.

Today, almost 140 years after the creation of the very first Fabergé egg at the behest of the Russian royals, the company splits its time between these sorts of one-off luxury novelties and more widely available (and more affordable) jewellery collections.

However, it is different teams in different facilities that work on these two very different product categories, the company’s managing director, Antony Lindsay, tells Professional Jeweller.

Discussing how Fabergé splits its time between the two, the managing director explains: “It’s a considered balance and we don’t have a set formula as the development of our egg objets is an organic process which can take years before they come to fruition.

“The egg objets are typically crafted in different workshops to our jewellery pieces, so the craft of these unique items doesn’t impact production of our core pieces.”

Lindsay has been with the enigmatic company in a senior leadership role for over 11 years, but became MD and board member in mid-2017. Even more recently he became a member of the board for Fabergé’s parent company, Gemfields, just last year.

Antony Lindsay

Unlike many of his contemporaries across the industry, though, the managing director started his working life behind the jeweller’s workbench – something he believes gives him a big advantage in business.

He says: “I’ve been fortunate to have spent time making jewellery, selling jewellery (both retail and wholesale), studying gemmology, stone-buying, in production management, HQ operations and much more. It all helps fuel the flames of passion and desire. I’ve always made it my business to understand the business.”

Now, however, the MD is very much in management mode as he looks to maximise sales worldwide for Fabergé, despite difficult circumstances recently. Describing the past two years, Lindsay says happily: “All in all I would say it’s been a challengingly positive time. We’ve learnt a lot about our business and certainly each other since the C-word came along.

“We’ve grown as a team, become a tighter knit unit and discovered that our strategy pre-Covid was well-placed to ride the wave of acute change that’s been thrust upon us all.”

“I’ve been a bit too keen to rack up airmiles over the past few years and have failed to recognise the strength of the hard-luxury market here in the UK and the wealth of first-class retailers.”

Of course, the House of Fabergé’s operation did not go completely unchanged during the pandemic. It did make some changes, chief of which was, unsurprisingly, an increased focus on online.

In answer to the question of whether Covid-19 has changed the way the brand does business, Lindsay explains: “Yes and no. No, insofar as our primary focus remains firmly pinned on our creations and our clients and this hasn’t and will not change one iota. Operationally, yes, we’ve changed and have become more digitalised.

“I take the view that Covid has accelerated the shift towards digitalisation by around three to five years, and I think this change has further fuelled our appetite to do things differently, to have fun and to reinvest luxury with a sense of adventure, wonder and discovery.”

Fabergé in the UK
Looking specifically at the UK market, Lindsay is able to reveal some exciting news. When Professional Jeweller asks about the company’s business strategy for Britain over the coming year he responds: “I’m delighted you’ve asked me this question now, and not a month ago, as we’ve had some fantastic results and developments out of the UK market over the last four weeks alone – results that, to be honest, have exceeded my own expectations and given me tremendous cause for optimism of what’s to come.”

The managing director was somewhat taken aback by this success, and is candid enough to admit that he underestimated the potential of the UK market for Fabergé.

He pledges that he will not make that mistake again, however, and is able to divulge the company’s imminent plans for the country.

He says: “Fabergé is, of course, a globally recognised name. We currently have a portfolio of around 100 distinguished points of sale around the world with, frankly speaking, the very best of the best when it comes to retail partners.

“However, I’ll hold my hands up and admit that I’ve been a bit too keen to rack up airmiles over the past few years and have failed to recognise the strength of the hard-luxury market here in the UK and the wealth of first-class retailers.

“We currently have 10 points of sale in the UK and we’ve entered into agreements over the last four weeks to expand this number to 22 doors within the next six to eight months”

“Needless to say if I could turn back time, I certainly would have put more focus into the UK market sooner.” As though to prove his dedication to expanding within the UK, Lindsay adds: “We currently have 10 points of sale in the UK and we’ve entered into agreements over the last four weeks to expand this number to 22 doors within the next six to eight months.”

There is already evidence of this shift, as Fabergé has signed a new deal to be stocked by Laings in its Edinburgh and Cardiff stores.

Product launches 
Elsewhere on the horizon is a series of new jewellery lines, though the brand is looking to take a new direction here too. Lindsay tells PJ that the company has seen an increasing demand from a younger demographic of customers.

Fabergé puts this down to its recent work with the likes of Dua Lipa and Kim Petras, who it believes are doing a good job of  attracting younger buyers. “The collection which is seeing the largest growth with this audience is Colour of Love,” Lindsay says. “Everyone loves the kaleidoscope of coloured gemstones!”

He goes on: “This May we launched our exciting new 1842 collection, which pays homage to the year when Gustav Fabergé opened his jewellery boutique in St Petersburg.

“This collection is perfect for everyday wear and celebrates the stacking and layering trends which Gen Z have pioneered. These 18k yellow gold pieces offer the wearer a more contemporary look and they can be styled easily with our other collections.”

Before teasing “a number of new jewellery and watch launches in the pipeline” and refusing to give more details, he adds: “Back in early September we launched the limited-edition Compliquée Peacock Arte watch collection and in October we released our limited edition Altruist Wilderness collection, which will be donating proceeds to the Gemfields Foundation to support conservation projects in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Gemfields
Lindsay remains tight-lipped about further Fabergé news, of which he says there will be plenty over the coming months, but is happy to discuss parent company and gemstone specialist Gemfields, of which he has been a board member since February 2020.

First though, on his tenure so far on the board, he says: “It has been and remains a tremendous privilege to be a member of the board of Gemfields UK.

“I’m incredibly passionate and dedicated to my role in being part of a very special and privileged team that is charged with the honour of writing the next chapter in the history of Fabergé, one of the most celebrated names in luxury and one that must live on for many generations to come.”

On a more personal note, he adds: “I’ve also been very fortunate to have handled more rare jewels than a Russian tsar in a lifetime and I get pretty darn excited about gemstones – especially the very fine variety. I love my work and the fact that my primary focus is championing Fabergé and responsibly sourced Gemfields gemstones.”

Speaking on Gemfields’ wider business, it is not all good news. “2020 was, and I quote our group CEO, Sean Gilbertson, ‘a truly grisly year for Gemfields’,” says Lindsay, “as our mines were forced by the Covid-19 pandemic to close.”

Fortunately things have taken an upswing since then. Lindsay reports his happiness at a “return to strong operational and financial performance” for Gemfields in the half-year ending 30 June 2021.

He reveals candidly: “Group-wide revenues for the period were just under $100 million (£74 million) compared to just $15 million (£11 million) during the same period in 2020.” Elsewhere, EBITDA was up to $43.5 million (£32 million) versus an EBITDA loss of $24.7 million (£18.2 million) in the same months of 2020.

As though those bounce-back figures were not impressive enough, Lindsay reveals that Gemfields’ group share price is also up by around 130% for the year-to-date, which he describes modestly as “having a good run” before adding that it is “still very much under-priced” in his opinion.

All eyes will now be on Fabergé over the coming year to see if that 130% increase really is just the tip of the iceberg for the house.

GEMFIELDS FOUNDATION

Of course, it is not all about making money at parent company Gemfields, as exemplified by the new Gemfields Foundation, the company’s philanthropic branch.

“Earlier this year,” explains Antony Lindsay, “after a decade of directly funding CSR projects in Zambia and Mozambique, Gemfields launched the Gemfields Foundation, a charitable arm with a multiplier effect on Gemfields’ ongoing work for communities and conservation.”

Gemfields funds all of the foundation’s administrative overheads and makes available to it all of the company’s extensive infrastructure, logistics capability and human resources at no cost.

“It’s a UK-registered charity that operates with two objectives: alleviating poverty in local communities and assisting wildlife conservation efforts”

As a result, Lindsay says that donations received are fully applied to projects, allowing for the most positive impact possible.

He goes on to say: “It’s a UK-registered charity that operates with two objectives: alleviating poverty in local communities and assisting wildlife conservation efforts.” Find out more on the Gemfields Foundation website.