pearl lot 604 Dupuis auction"A pearl only a mother would love."

Ron Dupuis is using the phrase to describe Lot 604 in his upcoming auction.


But the pearl Dupuis is referring to is a grotesque, lumpy, oblong thing — far from the perfect white spheres that are so highly prized.

Still it, and two others of similar disfigurement, are set in a brooch estimated to sell for between $1,500 and $2,000. That's because, back in 1800, some brazen artisan lined the three oddly shaped pearls up to make them look like the head, body and tail of an animal foraging for food.

"What else could they do with them?" asks Dupuis, president of Dupuis Fine Jewellery Auctioneers. "These pearls are extremely baroque and amazingly rare in size. In fact the head and tail might have been one pearl that was cut into two."

This is the time of year when we are bombarded with advice from jewellery retailers eager to counsel on how to purchase the best diamonds and pearls.

But it is imperfect jewels that often spark a designer's creativity.

Lot 33 in Dupuis' auction includes an 18-kt gold brooch in the shape of a poodle. The little pet has a diamond collar and claws, and the "head" is a baroque pearl.

"This is a really bad cultured pearl with pockmarks," Dupuis says. "But the way they have positioned the pearl, it looks like a face. So here's a case where an ugly pearl was used to make a very, very cute poodle motif. That takes imagination."

The hump of the foraging animal brooch comes from a deformation in the central pearl, mounted in garnet-studded 22-kt gold. The "head" has a greyish cast where the nose of the animal would be.

"Those are imperfections but they made use of them," Dupuis emphasizes. "And it shows how there are different ways of looking at beauty."

Designing around oddly shaped gems is difficult, Dupuis says. "It's more time-consuming to do, and hard to do well."

It's not just animal brooches that result from nature's flaws. Lot 134 is a nativity scene carved into an asymmetrical chunk of agate. Baby Jesus and the Virgin Mary's breast seem magically highlighted — but in fact were thoughtfully carved into the area of the agate with the lightest hue. "They made the best use of the imperfection in the natural stone," Dupuis says. It's that synergy of nature and artistic ability that can add value — perhaps as much as double — to a piece.

Even worthless gems can be spun into gold, so to speak.

"During the Art Deco era, the royal families of India had, leftover from the mining process, huge stores of rubies, sapphires and emeralds that they had not found any use for. The stones were opaque and odd shapes and not of gem quality. Cartier was invited to India to redesign the crown jewels and, as an afterthought, were shown these stones that nobody wanted. Cartier brought them back to Paris and their designers got to work on them, carving them into birds and leaves. They created this style called Tutti Frutti which became extremely popular and highly collectible. All from the ugly ducklings that were cast aside."

A Tutti Frutti floral basket brooch, circa 1935, in the sale is expected to fetch between $5,000 and $6,000, while a diamond bracelet with carved ruby, sapphire and emerald berries and foliage, mounted in platinum, is estimated at between $24,000 and $28,000.

The Dupuis Fine Jewellery Auction takes place Monday 4 December 2006 at 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at the Windsor Arms Hotel, 18 St. Thomas St. Call 416-968-7500 or see


DROP KICK: As a former London-based director of international jewellery for Sotheby's and Christie's auction houses, Brett Sherlock has worked with the world's most magnificent jewels. Now an independent jewellery and art adviser based in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Sherlock represented Viscount Linley earlier this year in the sale of his mother Princess Margaret's historic collection.

But he also appreciates nature's less-than-stellar achievements.

So among his current gift suggestions are South Sea baroque pearl earrings.

"Some people consider them inferior, " admits Sherlock. "And they are not prized the same as perfect round pearls, which would be double the price. But where a round pearl against the face can look like a gumball, baroque pearls can take a shape that is much more complementary and contemporary."

Sherlock offers gold, white and black pearl drop earrings suspended from slim gold wires and priced from $470 a pair. Though baroque pearls generally have imperfections, Sherlock's discerning eye ensures the pearls have mild indentations and a high lustre. Each pair is slightly asymmetrical since no two baroque pearls are alike. But that only adds to their charm, he says.

"To wear something of beauty that is not considered the norm requires sophistication."

Sherlock can be reached at 905-468-7961.