Bottles of Chateau Petrus, a Ming-Dynasty plate and an eight-carat diamond ring will test Chinese demand for luxury items as economic growth slows.
Sotheby’s estimates its sale starting tomorrow, now comprising more than 3,100 lots, may raise as much as HK$1.9 billion ($240 million) in the first major Hong Kong auctions of the year.
The five-day marathon includes everything from contemporary Indonesian paintings to Qianlong-era porcelain and Patek Philippe watches. Wealthy buyers may have less appetite to buy at a time when China pared the nation’s economic growth target to 7.5 percent from an 8 percent goal in place since 2005.
“We will probably have fewer Chinese buyers,” said Sam Lin, a Hong-Kong-based wine collector. Aggressive bidding from mainland collectors in the past two years scared off more mature buyers from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, he said. “The likelihood is some regional buyers might come back if you don’t have crazy Chinese buyers bidding up prices anymore.”
In addition, Acker Merrill & Condit has a two-day wine sale today and tomorrow that may raise as much as HK$50 million, while Seoul Auction offers as much as HK$64.3 million of contemporary Asian and western art on April 3.
The Sotheby’s two-day wine sales feature cases of 1982 Petrus and Chateau Lafite, each carrying high estimates of HK$380,000.
A year ago, surging demand from mainland buyers for premiers crus French Bordeaux sent prices soaring to a July peak before falling 15 percent last year, according to the Live-ex Fine Wine 100 Index.
Chinese buyers are broadening their purchases to Burgundies including Domaine de la Romanee-Conti as well as less expensive second-and-third-growth Bordeaux, said Robert Sleigh, senior director and head of wine for Asia at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong.
“There’s a demand for a more diverse range of wines,” said Sleigh. “People are looking for something other than the commodity big-brand Bordeaux.”
That’s one reason Sotheby’s decided to include wines sold directly from California boutique wine maker Colgin Cellars. The Napa Valley-based winery’s 2007 Colgin Cellar IX Estate Red Wine is estimated to sell for as much as HK$4190 a bottle.
Sotheby’s April 2 contemporary Asian-art sale will be headlined by an oil painting by Chinese artist Zhang Xiaogang from his 1993 Bloodline series. The work may fetch as much as $4.5 million. An oil-based work by Zao Wou-Ki, a 20th-century Chinese abstract painter, has a high estimate of $HK28 million.
On April 4, Sotheby’s has its third sale of the Meiyintang collection of Imperial porcelains, assembled over the past six decades by Swiss pharmaceutical tycoon Stephen Zuellig. Highlights of the 52-lot sale include a blue-and-white Ming-Dynasty plate and a dragon stem bowl from the Xuande period that both carry high estimates of HK$80 million.
The day before, Sotheby’s will offer the 8.01-carat emerald-cut blue diamond flanked by two diamonds together weighing about one carat set in a platinum ring. It may sell for as much as HK$110 million, according to the high estimate without premium.
For the first time, the New York-based auction house took highlights of its watch and fine-jewelry sales on the road to the Chinese city of Chengdu, reflecting the spread of strong buying power beyond markets in Shanghai and Beijing.
Buyer’s premium, the commission added to the hammer price of works sold, is 25 percent for the first HK$400,000, 20 percent for lots fetching as much as HK$8 million, and 12 percent above that. The wine premium is a flat 22.5 percent.
Potential buyers who aren’t represented at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre sale can bid via the Sotheby’s online bidding system.
(Frederik Balfour is a Reporter at Large for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)