Bolin & the Tsars: the other Court Jeweler

Articles, Culture, History, Jewelry

      Believe it, or not, the jewelry making masterpieces of the Russian court were not limited to the notoriously-beautiful creations of Peter Fabergé and the mythical Imperial Easter eggs some of which still make treasure-hunters dream. The House of Bolin has an extraordinary jewelry-making story to tell. Still owned by the founding family, Bolin has served as Court Jeweler to five Russian Tsars and three kings of Sweden.

Bolin is one of the oldest jewelry-making Houses in the world. The story began in 1791, when Geman immigrant Andreas Roempler set up his diamond firm in Saint-Petersburg. Five years later he was appointed Court Jeweller by Emperor Paul. After the death of Andreas Roempler, his business was inherited by his sons-in-law, Gottlieb Ernst Jahn and Carl Edvard Bolin, the latter eventually became the proprietor of the House. In 1823 Andreas became the Court Assessor, some of his responsabilities included the placing orders for the jewels for the royal family, royal gifts and State orders of distinction. The majority of Bolin’s business creations were bespoke jewels that were never sold over the counter.

The House received international acclaim at the 1851 World Exhibition that took place in London. In 1912, in recognition for their contribution to the development of jewelry-making in the Empire and their loyal services to the crown, Tsar Nicholas II granted Bolins the noble title.

“…the Russian jewels by Bolin were the finest at the exhibition, both in design and quality”

Christopher Hobhouse says in his book “1851 and the Crystal Palace

It is quite striking that Carl Edvard Bolin lived in the shadow of another Carl. Monsieur Fabergé’s name remains intricately associated with the Russian royal family, however it is quite notable that Fabergé, who opened the business in 1842, became the official Court Jeweler only in 1911.

Some of the most sophisticated Bolin creations were the orders placed on special occasions, which included royal marriages. While Fabergé specialized in exquisite pieces such as the famous Easter eggs or fine dining items, Bolin continued to produce exquisite jewelry and in fact, his pieces were more expensive. For instance, one of the Faberge-Bolin collaborations included the wedding gifts for the Countess Olga, the sister of Tsar Nicholas II. Bolin produced several emerald, ruby and diamond parures, while Faberge created the silverware for the bride.

At the same time, according to Jewelry Treasures of Russian Court by Alexander Zemin, Bolin remained the jeweler of choice when it came to the gifts to the Empress, commemorating the royal engagement. Often, the gifts involved pearls. Quite interestingly, Bolin also sold Easter Eggs to the Russian royal family, a fact noted in the company bills.

Russian revolution put the end to the historic Fabergé House, but what happened with Bolin? In 1852 Wilhelm Bolin founded the Moscow branch of the firm, eventually becoming so successful that he began to sign his creations W.A.Bolin and was appointed Court Jeweler in his own right. The two branches constantly collaborated, and by the outbreak of the First World War, the opportunity of a merger was being discussed, since Edvard and Gustav who remained in Saint-Petersburg had no heirs.

In 1912 Wilhelm opened a shop in German town Bad Homburg, a favorite destination of Russian royalty. It is in Bad Homburg that he met the outbreak of the war.  Having retained double Russian-Swedish citizenship, Bolin managed to move his assets to Stockholm and in 1916 he opened a jewel salon in Stockholm with the help of the country’s foreign minister and famous banker K.A. Wallenberg. King Gustav V was present at the opening.

Unfortunately, most of the Bolin creations were lost during the time of the Revolution along with the Russian business.


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