|Fabergé c.1900. Purpurine cherries,|
nephrite leaves, gold stalk, rock crystal pot.
|Red Glass Beads, 1st cent. BCE, Tissamaharama, Sri Lanka|
|A small (1cm) Medusa's head in|
opaque red glass c.1st. cent. CE.
|C. 1st cent. BCE/CE Roman bowl (patella cup) in|
red opaque glass (haematinon).
Michelangelo Barberi, 1809.
|Purpurine taza made at the Russian|
Imperial Glassworks, c.1867.
(Shown at Paris Exposition)
In 1882, after considerable training and apprentice work, which began when he was a teenager, a 46-year-old Peter Carl Fabergé fully assumed control of his father’s small jewelry shop in St. Petersburg. Within a short time, he was supplying the royal family with his exquisite eggs and many other items made by a growing assemblage of master craftsmen. The first use of purpurine by the Fabergé shop occurs early in Carl’s tenure, perhaps as early as 1880. Initially, they use material supplied by Petuchov at the Imperial Glassworks. Over a period of years, though, the Fabergé shop developed its own recipe based on soda lead glass, more similar in composition to the ancient samples of haematinon. Other isolated examples of purpurine are known to exist made by competitive jewelers of the time, but no documented recipe has been found.  Apparently, Petuchov took the Imperial Glassworks formula for purpurine to his grave. As fame grew for Fabergé, their version is the one that became familiar to a growing clientele in Great Britain and in the United States. When the February Revolution of 1917 brought an end to the Romanov dynasty in Russia, Carl Fabergé fled the country, his company disbanded. In the west, the Fabergé name only multiplied in prestige among the elite and wealthy and items made with purpurine continue to command stratospheric prices.
Significant analytical work has been done on the ancient haematinon as well as purpurines of the Imperial Glassworks and of Fabergé. [3,5] The technical differences could easily be the subject of a separate treatment; suffice it to say that knowing the composition of a glass is not the same as knowing the recipe. (Just as knowing the composition of a cake does not mean that one can bake it.) The exact method for making the glass must have involved a long period in which snowflake-like crystals of cuprous oxide (Cu2O) would be encouraged to form, grow and spread throughout the glass forming a tightly interlocking network in the glass. One interesting point is that unlike many other opaque glasses, the ingredients of purpurine do not include a discrete opacifier; it is a clear glass base, which is so loaded with deep red cuprous oxide crystals that light does not pass through even small or thin pieces of the material. Another point is that this glass was not suitable for blowing on a blowpipe and therefore did not take forms typically expected for glass. Perhaps because of this, it has been largely overlooked.
The history of purpurine is a reminder of the fragility of human knowledge; it was discovered in ancient times, lost, rediscovered and lost again in modern times.
 Peter Carl Fabergé =Карл Густавович Фаберже. For more, see Abraham Kenneth Snowman, The Art of Carl Fabergé, Faber & Faber, 1974.(original ed 1953). Also see
 Gowlett, J.A.J.: High Definition Archaeology: Threads Through the Past, Routledge, 1997, pp. 276–277. Quoted in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purpurin_(glass)
 Rösch, Cordelia; Hock, Rainer; Schüssler, Ulrich; Yule, Paul; Hannibal, Anne. “Electron Microprobe Analysis and X-ray Diffraction Methods in Archaeometry: Investigations on Pre-Islamic Beads from the Sultanate of Oman” in: European Journal of Mineralogy, 9 (1997), 763–783. (Specifically, beads found at Tissamaharama, pp. 771,772). http://archiv.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/propylaeumdok/volltexte/2009/305
 Natural History, xxxvi, LXVII, 198.
 For more, see http://www.30giorni.it/articoli_id_10283_l3.htm
 RR Harding, S Hornytzkyj, A. R. Date. “The composition of an opaque red glass used by Fabergé”in the Journal of Gemmology, 1989. No.5, pp. 275-287.
 Klaproth M.H., Beiträge zur chemischen Kenntnis der Mineralkörper Vol. VI (1815), p. 136
 Schubarth. "Einige Notizen über rothes und blaues Glas." Journal für Praktische Chemie Vol. 3 (1844), pp. 300-316
 Pettenkofer, M. "Ueber einen antiken rothen Glasfluss (Haematinon) und über Aventurin-Glas." Abhandlungen der naturw.-techn. Commission der k. b. Akad. der Wissensch. I. Bd. München, literar.-artist. Anstalt, 1856. Also see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purpurin_(glass)
 Alessio Matteoli https://nononsensejewellery.wordpress.com/tag/purpurin-faberge/ , for more on Matteoli see http://www.aiellomosaics.com/about-mosaics/techniques-and-materials/roman-or-byzantineglass-or-marble-tilesmicromosaic-or-glass-enamels/ . On Michelangelo Barberi, see Renata Battaglini Di Stasio, “Michelangelo Barberi” in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani – v. 6 (1964) http://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/michelangelo-barberi_(Dizionario_Biografico)/
 Catalogue Special de la Section Russe a l'Exposition Universelle de Paris en 1867, p. 44, Classe 16, no.111.
 See http://art.thewalters.org/detail/77444/pair-of-tazzas/
 Op cit. RR Harding, S Hornytzkyj, A. R. Date, 1989.
 For more on competitive jeweler’s purpurine, see: Géza von Hapsburg: “Some of Fabergé’s Other Russian Competitors” in Fabergé, Imperial Craftsman and His World, London: Booth-Clibborn, 2000, pp. 323-325.
Hello Paul, thank you for writing this very informative article on Faberge and Purporine. I had always wondered what stone Faberge used in his red pieces as it seemed more intensely red than any I was aware of. In your research, did you happen to come across any sources that are making this today? I have been unable to find a source for this though I should mention I deal with stones in the lapidary world and have little to now experience with the glass market.ReplyDelete
Thanks for your question; it is a good one, and unfortunately I really don't have a good answer. I know of no one making purpurine commercially, or even privately. It is (was) somewhat of a hybrid material that would not be readily usable by traditional glass artists.Delete
I do have one possible lead for you - Its composition was apparently somewhat similar to the glass used in traditional mosaic work called "smalti" glass. If you google it you can find a number of distributors. Additionally there is a small but famous producer in Venice that does repair work for a number of churches etc. around the world www.orsoni.com - it is possible that they may have something similar.
Good luck, and please let me know if you ever locate some.