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Restoration of Alexander II’s Field Marshal’s Baton

Field marshal’s baton. Saint Petersburg. 1878–79. Gold, silver, diamonds, emeralds, polychrome enamel, mounting

The field marshal’s baton is a masterpiece of the jeweller’s art, made by the St Petersburg jeweller Julius Keibel in 1878 for Alexander II, the only Russian emperor to bear the rank of field marshal. The baton is a symbol demonstrating the grandeur and power of the army: a wave of it sends tens of thousands of men moving to victory over the enemy.

Following Emperor Alexander II’s death, more than 15 years later the baton was presented to Adjutant General Iosif Vladimirovich Gurko, who was promoted to field marshal in 1894, after a brilliant career as a military commander that included playing a decisive role in the outcome of the Plevna Operation in the Balkans in 1877–78. In 1908, after Gurko had died, his son returned the baton to His Imperial Majesty’s Cabinet. Subsequently, the same baton was presented to King Nikola I Petrović-Njegoš of Montenegro, who was elevated to the rank of field marshal in 1910, when the former principality was proclaimed a kingdom. After the First World War, however, the Petrović-Njegoš dynasty ceased to reign and many of the royal military regalia were sold off, ending up in the hands of private collectors in the USA and Europe. It was only in 2004 that the baton returned to its homeland: it was bought at a Christie’s auction and formally presented by President Vladimir Putin to the State Hermitage in October 2018.

As a highly artistic example of the jeweller’s art, comparable in value to any of the famed Fabergé Easter eggs, the baton represents an exceptional rarity for Russia’s State Museum Fund. The gold baton is embellished with diamonds, emeralds and enamelling.

Before the restoration work was carried out, general soiling, scratches and abrasions were identified on the surface of the piece.

  • The green enamel on the leaves was partially lost and had splits.
  • The silver ferrules and coats-of-arms decorated with precious stones were deformed, soiled and darkened.
  • Appliqué elements were loose; the plugs closing off the ends of the baton were deformed.
  • Metal fastenings were loose and had only partially survived.
  • Parts of the oak garland had been lost: there were two gaps in it where elements had been lost.
  • The seam running the length of the gilded silver tube had soldering defects with silver oxides emerging through the gilding at the soldering points.
  • One emerald was missing; the loss of other stones was indicated by empty sockets on the appliqué coats-of-arms with cut diamonds.
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In the course of restoration, the following measures were carried out:

  • examination and study of the piece
  • removal of soiling
  • using a polymer to strengthen the cracks and splits in the enamel
  • laser welding of the structure, breaks and cracks in the metal
  • mounting and fixing the precious stones
  • partial correction of the deformation
  • repair of the fastenings of all appliqué elements

The restoration was carried out Igor Karlovich Malkiel, an artist-restorer of the highest category and head of the State Hermitage’s Laboratory for the Scientific Restoration of Precious Metal.

The photographic recording was carried out by Sergei Vadimovich Solovyev, an artist-restorer in the Laboratory for the Scientific Restoration of Precious Metal, who also made a case for the baton.

The keeper of this exhibit is Yekaterina Yevgenyevna Abramova, researcher, keeper of the collection of Western European and Russian jewellery of the 16th–20th centuries, academic secretary of the Department of Western European Applied Art.

 

After the completion of restoration, the baton has been put on permanent display in the Hermitage’s Treasure Gallery.

The project was carried out with the support of the House of Cartier.