In recent months I have been asked many times by new breeders and aspiring judges just what it is they should be looking for in the ‘perfect’ smoke pearl, too often the wrong qualities are praised and pushed.
Colour is the single most important feature of the breed with a massive 45 points allocated (there are only 2 other fur breeds that equal or exceed this the New Zealand Red and the Pointed Beveren). The flanks of the rabbit should be a beautiful pearl-grey to beige shade, the more delicate the better, maintaining this colour while also successfully producing the desired shadings is a constant challenge for breeders.
The smoke pearl is a shaded rabbit and needs to display beautiful smoke grey saddle and points. Unfortunately the saddle is almost completely absent in the breed at present, but breeders are striving towards it. The saddle should be the same shade as the nose, ears and feet and stretch from the nape of neck to the tail. Some breeders are now beginning to produce exhibits with the start of saddles, however at present these are what would be considered a short saddle and are often held back by judges in favour of a rabbit with no saddle at all, which I feel is a backward step for the breed, surely a short saddle is worth more points than an absence of one. While on the note of saddles I find they are also often lacking in depth of colour, a trick I was shown by a well respected rex judge was to lay the rabbit’s ears flat, the saddle should match the ear colour, in most cases I find the saddle is still much lighter. So we still have plenty to develop on our saddles.
Next, the shadings, if the desired amount and colour has been achieved on the nose, ears, feet, tail and saddle, the colour must then gradually shade to the pearl-grey colour as described above. The change needs to be even and free from blotches and streaks, unfortunately moult lines and watermarks are all too common in this breed - and even more common in a correctly coloured specimen than one without body shadings. On top of this the rabbit needs to be free from white hairs and patches - pay particular attention to the ears and nose area as these do seem prone to go ‘frosty’ as is often the case with dilute series rabbits.
The three shades of smoke pearl: the light version (this is the colour most commonly seen shown today), the medium colour (this is what we should be aiming to produce, a correctly shaded rabbit although I have yet to be so lucky) and the dark variation or slate (not suitable for showing but can be put to use in the breeding program).
The under colour on the smoke pearl should match the top colour as closely as possible throughout the rabbit, the further down the hair shaft the better. I have known some rabbits in the past to suffer from pale or almost white undercolours. The only exception to this is the on the belly of the marten rabbit, when blown into the white fur should reveal a warm fawn-beige colour not white or grey - this again is another breeding challenge to produce, but I am starting to see this come out on the table.
Consideration should be given however to the fact that smokes develop their shadings gradually, U/5 rabbits will not be fully coloured up,the points up to their eyes and ear bases are usually not coloured until 5-6 months old.
In the marten pattern the rabbit should have white around the eyes, inside the ears, under the jaw, inside the nose, legs and feet as well as a white belly and underside of tail. The white triangle behind the ears should be as small as possible. The marten pattern itself seems to be well understood as it replicas that of the marten sable and silver fox breeds. Two additional points of note however are to the nose flash. What would be considered a serious fault in the breeds mentioned above (a small white flash on the nose) is perfectly permissible in the smoke pearl, I’ve seen many a good rabbit pushed down the table for this acceptable feature. The standard does say that excessive white flash is a fault, and it is left up to the judge to determine what is excessive. Another marten feature is the white ticking which should be present along the flanks, chest, rump and feet. This is often restricted purely to the feet on a Smoke Pearl and as breeders we should be striving to extend the range of the ticking to bring it in line with the standard.
Once we have fully appreciated the colour of the Smoke Pearl next we turn our attention to the fur qualities of this breed, the standard allocates 40 points to a description that takes up just over 3 lines of text. The description of the texture and density of fur is exactly the same as found in the sable standard, so this should be our aim when breeding. The only difference is that the smoke pearl’s coat is listed as slightly shorter (1in as opposed to the sable’s 1-1½ in). The coat should be very dense, silky and soft. The coat should move slowly and not fly back, the overall impression should be exquisite. The breed does have a tendency to sway towards shorter coats and sometimes a little harsh (often in the siamese pattern). It is not often that a smoke displays the wealth of coat found on a sable, but when they do combined with the beautiful colouration they really are a sight to behold.
According to the standard the final consideration is type and condition, allocated a mere 15 points, however I feel still vitally important when assessing stock, a correctly typed rabbit will display the coat and colour to perfection. The smoke pearl has a ‘chunky’ but ‘moderate’ appearance free from physical extremes. It is generally described as medium bone, medium size, moderate length. The breeds slightly arched back is best shown off when the rabbit is trained to sit up on its front legs rather than lay flat to the table. The head should not appear snipy but also should not have a shortened or flat face, the ears should be small but proportionate.
One of my main bug bears is so many judges discount a rabbit for being too small, when it is in fact within the desired limits of the breed. At just 5-7 lbs the smoke is a rather small rabbit within the fur section. The current trend is often for placing rabbits nearer (or even in excess of) 8lbs. I prefer my smokes nearer 6lbs and favour fit over fat. But for judges, before penalising a rabbit for its size, perhaps check its weight… as surely a rabbit of 6lbs (right in the middle of the ideal weight) is more correct than one of 7½lbs and over the ideal limits.
Faults described in the standard have mostly been covered above with the exception of a few type faults like, lopped ears and excessive dewlap. The last thing to consider but what really makes the rabbit stand out is condition and presentation, a rabbit that is fit, finished and shown to perfection really will sparkle.