History of the Firm

Wartski is a family firm of art and antique dealers, specialising in fine jewellery, works of art by Carl Fabergé, antique silver and objets de vertu. The firm was founded in Bangor, North Wales in 1865 by Morris Wartski, maternal great-grandfather of the present day Chairman. By 1907, two shops had been established in the fashionable seaside resort of Llandudno. The business thrived under the patronage of King Edward VII and a colourful clientele including the fifth Marquis of Anglesey, whose penchant for playing ping-pong in an emerald set shirt is legendary.

Kenneth Snowman with Bing Crosby. The sign for Wartski's Regent Street premises can be seen in the background.
Kenneth Snowman with Bing Crosby. The sign for Wartski’s Regent Street premises can be seen in the background.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis wearing a sunburst ornament bought from Wartski
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis wearing a sunburst ornament bought from Wartski

In 1911, Emanuel Snowman, Morris Wartski’s son-in-law, opened another branch of the firm in London. He was among the first to negotiate with the government of the Soviet Union in the 1920s, purchasing treasures that had been confiscated after the revolution of 1917.  For more than a decade he acquired many important works of art, including a gold chalice commissioned by Catherine the Great (now in the Hillwood Museum).

Kenneth Snowman, Emanuel’s son, built upon his father’s work, adding an academic dimension to the business through his pioneering research and exhibitions.  His first book, ‘The Art of Carl Fabergé’, was published in 1953. His second, published in 1966, was ‘Eighteenth Century Gold Boxes’, which he updated as the definitive work on the subject in 1990. Further publications included ‘Carl Fabergé, Goldsmith to the Imperial Court of Russia’ in 1979 and ‘Fabergé Lost and Found’ in 1993. Kenneth Snowman was immortalized by Ian Fleming, a Wartski customer, in the James Bond novella ‘Property of a Lady’, which described him in Wartski’s premises, then in Regent Street.  As a tribute to his extensive research in the Russian goldsmith’s work, he was asked to curate an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum devoted to Carl Fabergé’s work in 1977, to coincide with H.M. The Queen’s Silver Jubilee.

His son Nicholas Snowman succeeded him as Chairman and continues to support the firm’s academic projects and individual areas of expertise.

Katherine Purcell and Kieran McCarthy are joint managing directors of Wartski.

Katherine Purcell is a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths and Vice-Chairman of the Society of Jewellery Historians. She specialises in French nineteenth century jewellery and works of art. She has written a number of articles for The Antique Collector, Apollo and The Magazine Antiques on subjects including the Parisian firm of jewellers Falize, the master of Art Nouveau René Lalique, and on the influence of Japanese art on Western jewellery and goldsmiths’ work. She has contributed to ‘Master Jewellers’ (1990), the ‘Dictionnaire International du Bijou’ (1998) and ‘Bejewelled by Tiffany, 1837-1989’, focusing on Tiffany and Paris. Her definitive study ‘Falize: A Dynasty of Jewellers’ was published in 1999 by Thames and Hudson and her translation of Henri Vever’s three-volume ‘French Jewellery of the Nineteenth Century’ printed in 2001. Amongst the exhibitions Katherine has curated for Wartski are ‘French Jewellery of the Nineteenth Century’ (2001), Fabergé and the Russian Jewellers’ (2006), ‘Japonisme from Falize to Fabergé’ (2011) and ‘Fabergé – A Private Collection’ (2012).

Kieran McCarthy is a freeman of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths’ and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and the Gemmological Association. He is a member of the advisory board of the Fabergé Museum in St. Petersburg and has widely published and  lectured on the Imperial Russian Goldsmith’s work.   In 2010, he curated the exhibition ‘The Last Flowering of Court Art’, a private collection of Fabergé. Kieran was also instrumental in the republication of Dame Joan Evans, English Posies and Posy Rings by Wartski in 2012.  In 2014, he revealed the existence of the lost Third Imperial Fabergé Easter Egg and exhibited it for the first time in 112 years.  In 2017 he authored Fabergé in London, an in-depth study of Fabergé’s London branch and its customers.

Thomas Holman is a director of Wartski. He specialises in the history of gem engraving as well as late 19th and early 20th Century jewellery design. In the Autumn of 2018, he presented  a lecture at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge about the Arts and Crafts jeweller Frederick Partridge (1877-1945). He is also working on an exhibition of engraved gems.

In 2011, Wartski made the ring for the wedding of H.R.H Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton. The ring was fashioned from a piece of Welsh gold given to Prince William by H. M Queen Elizabeth II. In 2005, Wartski made the wedding rings for H.R.H The Prince of Wales and H.R.H The Duchess of Cornwall.

Wartski were sole sponsors of ‘Bejewelled Treasures’, the exhibition of Indian and Indian influenced jewellery from The Al Thani Collection staged at the Victoria and Albert Museum between November 2015 and April 2016.

Geoffrey Munn, who was the firm’s managing director until 2018, focused on the work of revivalist jewellers Castellani and Giuliano. He wrote about them in ‘Castellani and Giuliano, Revivalist Jewellers of the Nineteenth Century’. Further areas of research resulted in ‘Artists Jewellery, Pre-Raphaelite to Arts and Crafts’,  and ‘The Triumph of Love’. After the publication of ‘Tiaras, A History of Splendour’ in 2001, he curated an exhibition of tiaras at the  Victoria and Albert Museum  in 2002.

The work of Castellani and Giuliano, as well as artists’ jewellery and tiaras continue to be represented at Wartski.