By Michelle Graff

One of the most popular Chinese zodiac legends describes how Buddha invited animals to participate in a race in which the first 12 to cross the river would win a coveted position on the Chinese zodiac calendar.

According to legend, the first animal to cross the river was the rat. Using brain rather than brawn, the rat hitched a ride on what it believed to be the strongest swimmer—the mighty buffalo—and just before the buffalo reached the shore, the rat jumped off of its back to cross the finish line first.

The new year will bring The Year of the Rat (or Mouse) around again, and designers are capitalizing on the theme, incorporating the rodent into a variety of interesting pieces.

In the photo at top left, a salesperson at a pearl shop in Suzhou, China, shows a mouse composed of 2,008 pearls, representing the year 2008.

To the left, a model from Christie's Geneva displays an 18-karat gold, enamel and black onyx "automaton mouse," which will be auctioned on Nov. 15 for an estimated price of $87,000 to $131,000.

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