From the Vault
Unique shapes of these lustrous gems give birth to a menagerie
William Ruser knew a good thing when he saw it. Textured and
baroque-shaped natural American freshwater pearls were largely
regarded as curiosities by an industry focused primarily on button
making in the late 1930s. Ruser, however, saw tremendous potential
in the pearls' fanciful shapes and bought several shoe-box-sized
boxes of them from a button manufacturer.
Some were long and thin, others rounded and flat or cupped
slightly like flower petals. Many looked like little wings, others
were larger and rounder, suggesting snail shells, rosebuds or
the bodies of birds and
Most were a lustrous silvery white, though there also were
delicate pink, light yellow, peach and salmon, deep rose, pale
green, light blue and lavender along with metallic shades of
purple, gold, bronze and copper. Sizes ranged from tiny seed
pearls to baroque shapes an inch or more in diameter.
Unusual Shapes, Unique Designs
After his tour of duty in World War II, Ruser opened a shop
on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, CA. While maintaining an elegant
inventory of important diamond jewelry and fine gem-set jewels,
he specialized in pieces designed around his marvelous collection
of unusually shaped freshwater pearls. Carefully selected pairs
or clusters of pearls with diamond, ruby or sapphire accents
made up the links in flexible necklaces, bracelets and watchbands.
Larger baroque pearls were set in rings, the pearl circled with
diamonds or set in sculpted gold of subtle floral design. He
even fabricated flowers of pink pearl petals as brooches and
Ruser also incorporated baroque pearls into the bodies of
birds, fish, animals and childlike figures of sculpted gold.
This whimsical menagerie included foxes whose gold tails were
tipped with white pearls, tropical fish with pearl bodies and
diamond-set gold fins, exotic birds with pearl bellies and pearl
beaks. Particular favorites were a little skunk, known as "Pepe
Le Peu," made with a white pearl forehead and white pearl
stripe in his tail, hummingbirds with pearl wings and bumblebees
with pearl bodies. These figurative jewels became instantly popular
and soon caught the attention of actress Loretta Young, who acquired
a swan with a pearl body and pearl wings.
Going to the Dogs
Poodles were the dog of choice in the 1950s, and Ruser had a
succession of them. Probably these inspired his highly successful
"Angel Poodle" series. Actress Joan Crawford often
wore two Angel Poodle brooches, one of 18k white gold with sapphire
eyes, the other in 18k yellow gold with ruby eyes, both with
seed pearl halos and pearl wings, their paws resting on pearl
Another popular series was based on the nursery rhyme "Monday's
Child." Charming little cherubs, in poses to match each
day of the week, stand on pearl clouds, their heads circled by
seed pearl halos and wing-shaped pearls rising from their shoulders.
In 1969, Ruser retired and sold his establishment to Van Cleef
& Arpels, which still occupies the same spot. From time to
time, Ruser's beguiling little jewels appear at auction or in
antique shops, where they're quickly snapped up by discerning
collectors. Not only do they evoke the optimism of the 1950s
and 1960s, their imaginative use of natural freshwater pearls
makes each one unique and irreplaceable.
|A jaunty little
"Angel Poodle" sits up and begs on a puffy cloud of
freshwater pearls while smaller ones wait their turn. Each 14k
gold poodle has sparkling sapphire eyes, a freshwater seed pearl
halo and freshwater pearl wings. Brooch and earrings are signed
by Ruser, c. 1955. Courtesy of a private collection.
by Elise B. Misiorowski
Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.