Bidding up antiquities to watches to jewelry to wines, wealthy Chinese collectors are setting records at auctions throughout Hong Kong this past week. Sotheby’s autumn sale hit a record HK$3.08 billion ($400 million).
Mainland Chinese buyers are moving into art as a status symbol as well as a potentially lucrative investment. The biannual auctions underscored the strong demand and intense competition from affluent mainland Chinese buyers for the diminishing supply of top Chinese imperial treasures coming to market.
The caliber of this season’s collections was incredible. “What we saw was just that desperate, desperate hunger for objects of great quality,” said Kevin Ching, the CEO of Sotheby’s Asia. “It’s a very delicate chemistry between the collectors’ desires and the outstanding quality of the objects available. There was a growing realization that outstanding objects are in very short supply.”
Underlying the sales was a group of 35 unique imperial antiquities from private collections that brought in $148 million — doubling the pre-sales estimate — of which a famille-rose vase with the seal mark of the Qianlong Emperor (1736-1795) fetched a record HK$252.7 million (US$32.6 million).
Alice Cheng, a collector, paid more than five times the top estimate for the vase. “I knew the price was going to be high, but as long as I like it, it’s worth it,” Cheng, wearing a pair of red sapphire earrings, said after the sale. “I like it a lot.”
Two other floral medallion vases from the Qianlong period, part of the 13 pieces of Qing dynasty imperial Chinese porcelain, sold for a combined HK$172.7 million. A Qianlong emperor white jade seal, commissioned in 1786 and carved with dragons and the characters for “Xintian Zhuren” or “ruler who believes in heaven” inscribed, sold for HK$121.6 million compared to its top estimate of HK$30 million.
Vases and ceramics were not the only items setting record prices, sales of gems took in HK$423 million, watches took in HK$55.7 million, Chinese ink painting topped HK$407.3 million, modern and contemporary Asian art took in HK$471 million, and vintage wines sold for HK$107 million.
A 6.43-carat pink diamond set in a Van Cleef & Arpels ring sold for HK$60 million. A Greubel Forsey platinum double tourbillon watch with mother-of-pearl dial fetched HK$2.54 million. Fu Baoshi’s “Court Ladies,” depicting a Tang dynasty court woman and her maid, sold for HK$33.1 million.
A Shanghai museum paid a record HK$52.18 million for Zhang Xiaogang’s 1992 “Chapter of a New Century — Birth of the People’s Republic of China II.” And a case of the Burgundy sold for HK$1.8 million.
While some think the prices are a bit rich, no one denies the market in China is very promising for the next decade. Sotheby’s Ching thinks the “next major frontier for the Chinese could be Western impressionist and modern art,” similar to the 1980’s when the Japanese were paying record-breaking prices.
photo credit: sotheby’s