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Cheng’s Vase Lifts Sotheby’s to $398 Million Record

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Oct. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Alice Cheng remembers a Chinese vase that sat in the house of one of her father’s friends when she was a little girl. Yesterday she bought it at a sale in Hong Kong for HK$252.7 million ($32.6 million).

Cheng, a collector and sister of Hong Kong dealer Robert Chang, paid more than five times the top estimate for the famille-rose double-gourd vase, with the seal mark of the art-loving Qianlong Emperor (1736-1795), helping push Sotheby’s autumn sale total to a record HK$3.09 billion.

“I knew the price was going to be high, but as long as I like it, it’s worth it,” said Cheng, wearing a pair of red sapphire earrings, after the sale. “I like it a lot.”

The weeklong sale by New York-based Sotheby’s at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, covering wine, modern and contemporary art, traditional Chinese paintings, watches, jewelry and antiques helps indicate to collectors and dealers the strength of demand for art and luxury goods in Asia. The final total was more than 50 percent higher than the company’s previous record in the city of HK$2 billion set in April.

Shanghai-born Cheng, 78, who is a director of Chinese companies in oil, communications and transport, has raised the bar for Chinese ceramics before. In May 2002, she paid HK$41.5 million for an enameled vase from the reign of Emperor Yongzheng (1723-1735) at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong, a record at the time for a Qing ceramic. She donated it to the Shanghai Museum, she said. Four years later she paid a then-record HK$151.3 million for a Qing porcelain bowl being sold by her brother at a Christie’s International sale in the city.

Twin Vases

Yesterday, two almost-identical floral medallion vases from the Qianlong era sold for a combined HK$172.7 million in a saleroom with the 280 seats filled and about 100 more people standing at the back. The vases were part of a group of 13 pieces of Qing dynasty imperial Chinese porcelain from the J. T. Tai Foundation sold on the first day of Sotheby’s two-day sale of Chinese works of art.

“The quality of the items was excellent, though some of the prices went a bit over I think,” said a bidder from a Beijing auction house, who failed to buy anything and only gave his name as Zheng. “The outlook for the market in China is very promising in the next decade.”

A milky-white jade seal of China’s 18th-century Qianlong emperor, commissioned in 1786 and carved with dragons and inscribed with the characters for “Xintian Zhuren,” or “ruler who believes in heaven,” sold for HK$121.6 million, against a high estimate of HK$30 million.

“Chinese works of art took their place on the world stage today,” said Nicolas Chow, Sotheby’s deputy chairman, after yesterday’s sale.

Wines to Watches

Previous days in the weeklong series boosted the final total. A 6.43-carat pink diamond set in a Van Cleef & Arpels ring sold for HK$60 million on Oct. 6 as Sotheby’s broke its record for a jewelry auction in Hong Kong. The sale of gems, jade and pearls garnered a total of HK$423 million.

Earlier the same day, Sotheby’s sold HK$55.7 million of watches, also its highest total for the category, as Asian and European collectors vied for timepieces by Richard Mille, Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe and a Greubel Forsey platinum double tourbillon watch with mother-of-pearl dial that fetched HK$2.54 million.

On Oct. 5, Fu Baoshi’s “Court Ladies,” depicting a Tang dynasty court woman and her maid fetched HK$33.1 million, the top lot in a HK$407.3 million sale of Chinese ink paintings.

The previous day, a Shanghai museum paid an artist record of HK$52.18 million for Zhang Xiaogang’s 1992 “Chapter of a New Century -- Birth of the People’s Republic of China II,” as the auction house took in a total of HK$471 million for modern and contemporary Asian art.

The auctions kicked off at the weekend with two days of wine sales that took HK$107 million as Chinese buyers bid up cases of vintage Romanee-Conti and Chateau Petrus.

Christie’s holds its Hong Kong sales next month.

To contact the reporter on this story: Hanny Wan in Hong Kong at hwan3@bloomberg.net; Adam Majendie in Hong Kong at amajendie@bloomberg.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech at mbeech@bloomberg.net.

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