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Peter Carl Faberge

Peter Carl Faberge was a world famous master jeweler and head of the ‘House of Faberge’ in Imperial Russia in the waning days of the Russian Empire.

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On this day: Russia in a click

23 August

On August 23, 1935, a decree was issued by the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee about erecting red stars on top of the Kremlin towers, in place of the imperial two-headed eagles.

The eagles crowned the towers of the Moscow Kremlin until the 1930s, 13 years after the monarchy had been overthrown - though Vladimir Lenin, according to one of the Kremlin officials, “demanded that the eagles be removed and was very annoyed that this wasn’t done.” The newly-established Soviet regime was simply out of money and couldn’t afford such costly work.

Reaching a deadlock, the issue was only reconsidered in 1935, when the Communist Party finally decided to erect stars instead of the eagles, right in time for the next anniversary of the October Revolution.

The production of stars was undertaken on a tight schedule; besides, no other project on so big a scale had ever been considered before. Joseph Stalin himself kept an eye on the process -- archive documents show the blueprints with his personal notes and remarks on how to enhance the stars to his liking. The final draft was proposed by the chief designer of the Bolshoi Theater.

Hundreds of people of different trades contributed to the project; over 20 enterprises were involved in the production of stars, many of them forced to master new production methods and technologies. For example, the steel works had to gild 130 square meters of sheet copper, but a new shop floor had to be designed for it, since no other shop floor in the Soviet Union could house a production of such size.

The first stars were welded out of the highest quality stainless steel and plated with red copper. Every star was adorned by a hammer and sickle on both sides and covered with gems. The total number of stones used for the emblem amounted from 7,000 to 10,000 pieces, according to various sources, with each worth from 20 to 200 carats. The emblems were over 2 yards in width and weighed 530 pounds. More than 200 of the best jewelers from Moscow and Leningrad spent a month and a half cutting gems. Each finished star weighted over one ton. Beautiful though they were, they appeared too heavy for the ancient Kremlin walls. The walls had to be remodeled, reinforced, and steel poles installed inside each tower for the star to be put on top.

These stars however, couldn’t withstand the severe weather conditions and the city’s fumes, and the gems faded and lost their glitter; nor could they fit into the Kremlin’s architectural ensemble; being too big and heavy, they weighed over the entire construction. After a year on the Kremlin towers, they were removed to be substituted by new, more adapted stars.

The new long-lasting stars were installed in 1937. Instead of the gems, the new stars shone through an electric light bulb installed inside each of them and lit 24 hours a day. Each of the five new stars had two layers of glass: a filmy milky base and a ruby layer on top. The milky base was to add richness to the ruby color, which in the daylight looked black. These new stars were sparkling and glittering just like real rubies, regardless of the weather.

As the lamps were very powerful - up to 5,000 watts - the temperature inside the stars was extremely high and demanded a very advanced ventilation and cooling system. In the case of a shortage, the entire interconnected system automatically shut down to prevent overheating.

The only time the stars were taken off the Kremlin towers was for a major reconstruction after the World War II. Cleaned, remodeled and better lit, they were returned to their original magnificence.

The stars are washed by skilled steel erectors every five years. The scheduled maintenance is held monthly for the equipment’s upkeep; the more thorough works take place every eight years.

There have been several proposals to change the stars back to the eagles, but they were not given serious consideration.