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A gemologist explains all: ‘People love a tiara’

Toronto Star logo Toronto Star 2015-06-13 Jim Coyle - News, Insight

It was only proper, really, that Duncan Parker’s find of the year occurred in Victoria, a city named for a queen and appreciative of all things regal.

Parker, vice-president of Dupuis Fine Jewelry Auctioneers, was on the West Coast to appraise merchandise for the firm’s spring auction, to be held June 14 at the Windsor Arms Hotel in Toronto.

“ ‘I don’t expect that you’d be interested in this,’ ” the vendor’s representative sighed at Parker as they examined the goods.

“I see a leather-covered Victorian jewelry box and I just know there’s something beautiful inside.”

He unclipped the clasp and felt the frisson of excitement. Inside was an antique tiara/necklace with pearls, diamonds and rare pink conch pearls, from about 1875.

The past immediately met the current day. Parker took a selfie wearing the tiara. “I sent it back to the office.”

Since returning to Toronto with his prize, just about everyone at Dupuis has tried it on. At the auction, the tiara will be Lot 381 with minimum bids of $15,000.

“People love a tiara,” he deadpanned as Dupuis set up preview showcases at its new offices at Bloor and Bay Sts. “You really can’t start your day without wearing one.”

Since ancient times, tiaras have been worn by royalty and rulers. They are still worn by noble ladies. The Queen is said to own a priceless collection.

Auction assistant Jade Pauk tries on the signature piece of the auction, a tiara made of conch pearls, regular pearls and diamonds. © Richard Lautens Auction assistant Jade Pauk tries on the signature piece of the auction, a tiara made of conch pearls, regular pearls and diamonds.

This tiara will be far from the most expensive of the 641 items on auction, Parker told the Star. (Minimum prices range from under $1,000 to $300,000.) But it will likely attract the most interest.

“It’s a fun thing. It sort of has that essence of royalty and makes people feel elegant and glamorous.”

This one, he explained, has the advantage of a diamond attachment at the back that allows it to be turned into a necklace.

Someone could wear it on their head as the bride, then as a necklace at the dance afterwards, he said.

The tiara travelled the route a lot of jewelry does that comes into the hands of auctioneers.

The owner grows old. Fashions change. Heirs don’t go to quite so many balls. So the matriarch decides, no doubt wistfully, that “someone else would probably have a greater use for this, let’s put it out to the world.”

Parker figures there are people somewhere “who want to have a tiara for their wedding, or for a major coming-of-age event of some kind.”

Buyers normally attend auctions for the signed items — “Tiffany, Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, that kind of thing” — but Parker always has his eye out for quirky and unusual pieces.

In fact, his job is a little like the Antiques Road Show. He looks for stamps and marks that indicate who made a piece, when and where, whether “a name stamped on it actually belongs there.”

Sometimes, he’s obliged to tell people that what they thought was valuable is junk. Occasionally, he gets to inform others that what they thought was one of Granny’s more appalling broaches is worth a considerable amount.

Usually, by the time Granny is Granny, she’s put anything valuable away and wears cheaper jewelry, he said. That’s why treasures come to him the way the tiara did.

To happen on them is gemologist heaven.

“There are those ‘aha’ moments where people have no idea that the thing they have – because Great-Granddad fought with the Raj somewhere and picked up a Burmese ruby 150 year ago — is so rare it’s worth millions of dollars.”

For Parker, the best pieces are the ones with a story.

And if tiaras aren’t exactly your style, there’s a captivating two-tone gold figurine pendant made by a designer who was for several years the boyfriend of Brigitte Bardot.


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