Christie’s Sets Hong Kong Auction Record of $470 Million

A Famille Rose Revolving Double Vase
A famille rose revolving and reticulated "chilong" double vase. The work was offered on June 1 and failed to sell. Source: Christie's International via Bloomberg

Christie’s International set a record of HK$3.65 billion ($470 million) for a series of Hong Kong auctions last night as Chinese bidders battled for items from their heritage. The figure would have been higher had an 18th-century Chinese vase valued at HK$200 million sold.

The six-day event was estimated to raise HK$2.4 billion from the sale of fine wines, gems, watches, Chinese ceramics, classical paintings and Asian contemporary art. The figure beat the HK$3.49 billion at Sotheby’s in April -- where some lots achieved prices there were multiples of estimates and others failed to sell -- and Christie’s equivalent sale last year, which made HK$2.29 billion.

“A lot of coal miners and listed company owners and financiers have built wealth and are comfortable spending it on art,” Qian Weipeng, a Shanghai-based dealer, said in an interview at the sale.

Chinese bidding was more intense than ever, especially for porcelain, said dealers. The Chinese antiques trade has an annual value of more than $10 billion. The country overtook the U.S. as the biggest auction market for fine art last year, research company Artprice said.

More than 1 million millionaires live in China, up from 190,000 six years earlier, their ranks swollen last year by economic growth, savings and a strengthening currency, according to a Boston Consulting Group survey. That puts China in third place for millionaire households, behind the 5.22 million in the U.S. and Japan’s 1.53 million.

Still, China’s wealth was not enough to push prices high enough for the Qianlong vase, the most anticipated and expensive lot of the entire sale.

Pierced Decoration

The 15 inch (38.1 cm) vase is lantern-shaped, with scrolling hibiscus flowers on a yellow background. The inner vase serves as the pivot around which the outside vase revolves, allowing different interior scenes to be viewed through four pierced circular panels.

It has the same pierced decoration as the 18th-century Imperial vase that was bid to 51.6 million pounds ($83.2 million) -- the highest ever for a Chinese artwork -- at Bainbridges, west London, last November.

Bainbridges said in February that it hadn’t received payment. It has since refused to comment. Mindful of such reports, Christie’s introduced for the first time the requirement that bidders pay a deposit of HK$1 million on any items valued at HK$8 million or more.

“It was a very pushy estimate,” Richard Marchant, a London-based dealer, said of the Christie’s vase. While he didn’t bid on the vase, Marchant bought three other pieces.

Qianlong Bowl

Other multimillion dollar items sold well because their estimates were less aggressive, said Marchant, including a Qianlong-era bowl that fetched a hammer price of HK$60 million, four times its high estimate.

The vase was fairly valued, said Pola Antebi, Christie’s head of Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art.

“I didn’t think the price was overly aggressive, the market is still strong,” she said on the sidelines of the auction. “At the very top of the market there are relatively few people collecting at HK$100 million and above.”

The sales began with an eight-hour marathon on May 27 in which all 392 lots direct from Chateau Latour sold. Total wine sales earned $7.76 million, with 95 percent of the lots exceeding their high estimate.

The headliners at the May 28 Christie’s evening sale were painted by 20th century artist Zao Wou-ki. They were sold to private Asian collectors for $5.27 million and $4.98 million including buyer’s premiums -- more than twice estimates.

Zeng Self Portrait

Works by contemporary Chinese painter Zeng Fanzhi also fetched high prices in the packed auction room, with three works among the 10 most expensive, including a self portrait bought by a European buyer for $4.83 million.

Chinese entrepreneur Zhao Zhijun paid HK$36 million, more than four times the high estimate, for “The Leopard,” a new work by Zeng donated by the artist so sales proceeds could go to support the Nature Conservancy.

The auction of watches raised HK$164.7 million, the highest-ever tally for an Asian sale, Christie’s said. Two Patek Philippe wrist watches sold for more than $1 million.

The Southeast Asian contemporary sale raised HK$49.4 million in which 15 individual artist records were set, including a work by the 20th-century Indonesian Affandi for HK$3.6 million and “La Piedra IV” by his Filipino contemporary Fernando Zobel which sold for HK$1.6 million, four times its estimate.

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