Petrus Tests Chinese Luxury Demand at $258 Million Sales

Painting by Chen Yifei
A painting by 20th-century Chinese master Chen Yifei is selling at Christie's Hong Kong auction on May 26. Source: Christie's via Bloomberg

Bottles of Petrus, a Qing dynasty vase and a Burmese ruby-and-diamond ring will test if Chinese demand for luxury items has been stymied by tumbling property prices, slower economic growth and a clampdown on art importers.

Christie’s International estimates its Hong Kong sale of wine, contemporary art, traditional Chinese paintings, watches, jewelry and antiques over the next five days will raise as much as HK$2 billion ($260 million).

“From the number of hotel bookings and reservations for our dinners from Chinese it seems to be business as usual,” Francois Curiel, Christie’s president of Asian operations, said in an interview.

The most expensive lot during the weekend’s opening wine event at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre consists of four imperials (six-liter bottles) of Petrus from 2005-2008, estimated to sell for HK$500,000 to HK$700,000.

The London-based auction house, with sales from May 26, will be competing for buyers with New York wine specialist Acker, Merrall & Condit, which is offering more than 1,000 lots valued at HK$60 million tomorrow and May 26 next door at Grissini in the Grand Hyatt Hotel, including three Jeroboams (three liter bottles) of 1990 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti La Tache worth as much as HK$1.6 million.

Zachys’s sale on the same days is estimated to fetch as much as HK$63.4 million. The top lot is a six-liter methuselah of 1990 Romanee-Conti Domaine de la Romanee Conti estimated to sell for between HK$700,000 and HK$1.1 million as the demand for top burgundies remains strong.

Plunging Bordeaux

All three auctions will be watched after the price of top Bordeaux 2011 wines dropped by as much as 45 percent compared with 2010 vintages. The youngest vintage for sale in the auctions is 2008.

John Kapon, Acker’s chief executive officer, said the plunge in en primeur prices is a boon for business.

“The 2011s are still expensive despite significant price drops,” he said. “If anything, this helps the auction market where buying mature wines makes more sense.”

The Liv-ex Benchmark Fine Wine Index, which tracks the secondary market for the most sought-after fine wines, was more than 20 percent down at the end of April from its high last June.

Bonhams’s spring sale, through May 27, includes wine and cognac, snuff bottles, Chinese ceramics and contemporary Asian art estimated to raise as much as HK$266 million.

Pink Lotus

Christie’s high profile evening sale of Asian 20th-century and contemporary art is led by “Pink Lotus,” by Chinese-born artist painter Sanyu, with a presale high estimate of HK$42 million.

Other highlights in the 46-lot sale include “Fly,” painted in 2000 by Chinese artist Zeng Fanzhi, that carries a presale high estimate of HK$25 million and a 1999 work by Zhang Xiaogong from his Bloodline series estimated to sell for as much as HK$18 million.

The evening sale also includes five paintings by Chinese/ French artist Zao Wou-ki whose works have held their value against recent economic turmoil.

Asian Stars

“Western collectors are getting into artists like Zao Wou-ki,” said Pascal de Sarthe, owner of de Sarthe Gallery.

The evening sale also wraps in stars from southeast Asia, such as Vietnam and the Philippines, next to Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean and Japanese in an effort to create a pan-Asian category to mirror sales of western contemporary works in London and New York.

While London and New York events typically are headlined by paintings, a Hong Kong highlight is antiques. On May 30, this includes a Qianglong-era celadon-glazed vase with a high estimate of HK$35 million.

The watch sale is led by a platinum 2007 Patek Philippe worth as much as HK$5 million, and the jewelry sale by a 6.04 carat pigeon’s bloom Burma ruby-and-diamond ring with a high estimate of HK$30 million.

Last year’s equivalent Christie’s sale raised HK$3.65 billion, a record for a series of Hong Kong auctions.

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

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