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Record-Breaking Song Ceramic Lifts Sotheby’s Sale

Nicolas Chow with brush washer
Nicolas Chow, Sotheby's Asia deputy chairman, with a Ruyao washer that sold in Hong Kong for HK$208 million ($26.7 million). The price was an auction record for Song dynasty ceramics. Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg.

April 5 (Bloomberg) -- Sotheby’s set a world auction record for a Song dynasty ceramic as part of its Hong Kong Spring sale, which raised an above-estimate HK$2.46 billion ($316 million).

Chinese buyers are continuing to buy luxury goods such as paintings, jewelry, wine, watches and ceramics, even as economic growth slows. The five-day event had been estimated by the New York-based auction house to raise a total of HK$1.9 billion at hammer prices.

“This was probably the first major indicator of the year,” said Cheng William Qian, a London-based adviser specializing in ceramics who bought ceramics from the Ming and Qing dynasties. “We’re all quite optimistic.”

The record Ruyao bowl, more than nine centuries old, sold for HK$208 million, equivalent of $26.7 million. Record prices were also achieved for Vietnamese and Indonesian artists, while all of the wine lots sold during two days of weekend auctions.

Highlights from the contemporary Asian art sales included an oil painting by Chinese artist Zhang Xiaogang from his 1993 Bloodline series that sold for $6.69 million with fees, compared with a presale high estimate of $4.5 million.

A work by Vietnamese painter Le Pho sold for HK$2.9 million, a record for the artist at auction and the highest paid for a Vietnamese painting, Sotheby’s said. Records were also set by contemporary Indonesian artist Ay Tjoe Christine and Bandung school artists Ahmad Sadali and But Mochtar.

Wine Success

Sotheby’s 100 percent success rate in the wine auctions was a turnaround from last September when some top lots failed to sell. The Liv-ex 100 Index of Fine Wines gained 2.5 percent in the first two months of this year after falling 21.6 during the second half of 2011.

Two cases of Romanee-Conti 1988 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti shared the top price of HK$1.59 million each, compared with a presale high estimate of HK$1.1 million.

The headline lot from the April 3 jewelry sale was an 8.01 carat emerald-cut blue diamond, flanked by two diamonds together weighing about one carat and set in a platinum ring that sold for HK$99.2 million ($12.8 million).

The Ru washer dating from 1086 to 1106, the most expensive lot sold this week, is considered the pinnacle of Chinese ceramics, said Sotheby’s Asia deputy chairman Nicolas Chow.

Twice Estimate

Four telephone bidders and two buyers in the room battled for several minutes before the hammer went down to loud applause. The victor was an unidentified telephone bidder who paid more than twice the presale high estimate of HK$80 million.

The previous highest price for a Song ceramic was set by Sotheby’s in 2008 when a “Guan” Mallet Vase sold for HK$67.5 million.

Ru refers to the kilns located south of the Song Capital, Kaifeng -- in Henan province -- which were commissioned to produce ceramics for the Imperial court.

“Even in the 12th century there were references to Ru in literature saying it was impossible to attain Ru works 100 years after they were made,” Chow said.

Only four other Ru ceramics are privately owned while about 70 pieces are held in museum collections.

(Frederik Balfour is a reporter at large for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Frederik Balfour in Hong Kong at fbalfour@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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