The rectangular silver plaque engraved with the armoured cruiser ‘Rurik’ with blue champlevé enamel Russian inscription below, raised on four domed feet, contained within a silver and cloisonné enamel frame in green, white, red and three shades of blue, with scrolls and flowers edged with silver bead borders and enamelled square corners.
The inscription reads ‘20-gun armoured cruiser ‘RURIK’, its construction began in the St. Petersburg Baltic Works on 19th of May, 1890 in the presence of Their Imperial Majesties the Emperor and Empress, Her Imperial Majesty the Queen of Greece and His Imperial Highness General Admiral Alexei Alexandrovich’
The reverse inscribed ‘Vice Admiral Chikhachev, Commander-in-Chief of the Maritime Ministry; Acting Commander of the port of St.Petersburg, Rear Admiral Shefner, Inspector of Shipbuilding Samoilov, Acting Chief Inspector of Shipbuilding, Chief Shipbuilding Engineer of the port of St. Petersburg, Senior Shipbuilder Subbotin, Supervisor of Shipbuilding Engineer and Junior Shipbuilder Dolgorukov’.
Such plaques were commemoratives of the beginning of the ship’s construction and were presented to dignitaries participating in the ceremony. Another example of this plaque is in the Fabergé Museum in St.Petersburg.
Although constructed in 1890, the ‘Rurik’ was not launched until 1892 and in 1895 it joined the Imperial Navy’s Russian Pacific Fleet at its Vladivostok base. As part of the Pacific squadron under Admiral Dubasov it was charged with seeking out and destroying Japanese merchant ships off the coast of Japan. By August 1904 only one enemy vessel had been sunk. On 14th of August the ‘Rurik’ along with two other Vladivostok based cruisers sailed towards the besieged Port Arthur in the attempt to break through the Japanese blockade which had trapped most of the Pacific Squadron inside the port. The three Russian cruisers then engaged Japanese warships under Vice-Admiral Hikonojo in the Strait of Tsushima located between Japan and Korea, during the ensuing battle the ‘Rurik’ was hit three times in the stern disabling her steering. With her speed reduced, surrounded and separated from the other Russian ships the senior officer ordered the ship to be scuttled rather than surrendering it to the Japanese. 625 survivors from the crew of 719 were picked up by the enemy.
Ovchinnikov, alongside with Fabergé, was one of the most important silver and goldsmiths of the nineteenth century Russia. The firm’s production was highly praised by many other European royal courts. Ovchinnikov was appointed the official purveyor to Tsar Alexander III, the Imperial Russian Court, King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy, Grand Duke Mikhail Nicholayevich and King Christian IX of Denmark. The firm’s work was featured in numerous exhibitions around the world and received several prestigious awards.