Azerbaijan International

Summer 2006 (14.2)
Pages 26-29

Nobel Clock

Up for Auction
Made by Faberge, Now in Stocholm, Asking 1 Million Euro
by Susann Silfverstolpe of Bukowski's Auction House

Fabergé, St Petersburg 1908-1917
Of grey and red granite flames of rhodonite
Silver mountings by Karl Gustaf Hjalmar Armfelt, 88 zolotnics
Height 65 cm, width 44.5 cm, depth 27.5 cm
In original oak case
Provenance: Emanuel Nobel, and later his descendants.
At auction in Stockholm June 1, 2006
Estimate: 1,000 000 ­ 1,600 000 Euro

Click on photo to enlarge


The Nobel Clock by Faberge
On the front of the plinth is a plaque with the portraits of father and son, Ludvig (1831-1888) and Emanuel (1859-1932) and the inscription: "To commemorate the achievement of the Nobel Brothers company, having produced one billion pud of crude oil from 1879 to1906 (1 pud=16 kilos or 35.274 pounds).

On a map of Azerbaijan, both the capital Baku and the Nobel Brothers oil fields are designated. In the lower left corner, the image of the world's very first oil tanker Zoroaster is depicted. The tanker was conceived by Ludvig Nobel, built in Sweden and arrived at the shores of Baku in 1878.

At the back of the plinth, there is another plaque with a motif of a female figure holding an oil lamp next to an altar with a burning flame. On the right, there is a view of the Nobel oil rigs at Balakhani close to Baku. In the background to the left, one can see a fortress and some camels loaded with oil bags. In the distance, the flames of the temple of Zoroaster are burning.

The temple, which was chosen as the symbol of the Nobel Brother's Petroleum Oil Company, was located outside of Baku, in the village Surakhani. The historical roots of the monument dates back from the time when Azerbaijan was founded and Zoroastrianism was the dominating religion in the district. Fire was something central in this religion and the burning flames of gas from the underworld, still visible on the Absheron Peninsula [at Yanardagh] were thought to have divine power. These fires gave Azerbaijan its name-"Land of Fire".

Eventually Islam became the official religion of Azerbaijan but the myths of the eternally burning flames were spread with traders to India. Hindu pilgrims followed the tradesmen back to the holy fires and built chapels, stables and guest houses close to the temple. This continued from late 17th century to the middle of the 19th century and the temple with its surroundings didn't look much different than a caravan seraglio with a big central place around the temple. The site was surrounded by small cells for the fire temple servants. The Sanskrit and Hindi inscriptions on the brick walls testifies the Indian background of the pilgrims. As time passed, the "eternal fires" from Absheron ceased to be considered divine. Nafta, the very liquid oil of Baku transformed into paraffin, became an economical and essential asset.

When Alfred Nobel, the famous brother of Ludvig, died in 1896, he was the largest single stockholder in Nobel Brothers Petroleum Company in Baku. Approximately, 12 percent of his entire fortune-valued at 31 million Sweden crowns, which came from the oilfields in Baku went for the establishment of the international Nobel Prize. The prize was first awarded in 1901. At that time Emanuel Nobel was the most successful entrepreneur in the Russian Empire.

In 1904 when the Nobel Brothers Petroleum Company celebrated its 25th birthday, they had 12,000 employees, 40 oil plants in the Baku region, 5 refineries, 7 factories, 150 depots, 1,500 tank wagons and 12 tankers. In 1917, the share-capital, which had grown from 3 to 25 million rubles, was confiscated by the Soviet authorities. Emanuel fled Russia disguised as a peasant and settled down in Stockholm and regained his Swedish citizenship back. He died in 1932. Since then the magnificent clock with its proud inscription has been carried down in his family.

On June 1, 2006, there will be a magnificent clock on sale at Bukowski's in Stockholm. This is the most important work that Emanuel Nobel (1852-1932) ever had commissioned by Faberge's.

Emanuel Nobel was the son of Ludvig (1831-1888) and took over the oil business in Baku after his father's death. The famous memoirs of Franz Birbaum, one of Faberge's work masters, describes him as one of the firms´ best clients: "E. Nobel, an oil baron, was so generous in his presents that at times it seemed that this was his chief occupation and delight. Orders were constantly being made for him in the workshops, and from time to time he came to have a look at them. Often he decided for whom the present should be only after the work was finished.From among his numerous commissions, the large chimney clock, a reproduction in stone of the Temple of Fire Worshippers [Atashgah near Baku] is worth mentioning."

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