Burmese Ruby Necklace Tops $74 Million Hong Kong Auction

Ruby and Diamond Necklace
A ruby and diamond necklace weighing 62.46 carats. It was on sale for an estimated $3.5 million to $5.5 million at Christie's International auction in Hong Kong on Nov. 27. It sold for HK$39.9 million ($5.1 million). Source: Christie's Images Ltd. via Bloomberg

A Burmese “Pigeon’s Blood” ruby and diamond necklace sold for HK$39.9 million ($5.1 million) in Hong Kong, the most expensive item in last night’s Christie’s International jewelry sale.

Demand for precious gems as an investment class has gained steadily in recent years. On Nov. 23 in Hong Kong, the Bonhams auction house set a per-carat record for a Sri Lankan sapphire with the sale of a 43-carat sapphire and diamond ring for HK$12 million.

“Investors clearly realize that super high-quality gems hold their value extremely well and have tended to appreciate through and after the financial crisis,” Claudio Ribeiro, chief executive officer of Singapore-based gemstone trading house Primacy Holdings said before the sale.

Ribeiro said a Burmese unheated sapphire sold for $75,000 per carat in an auction last week, while comparable stones were selling for $50,000 three years ago.

The necklace was the last of 300 lots to go on the block, the slot reserved for the most expensive jewelry item, bringing the sale total to HK$577 million. The lot comprised 26 oval Burmese “Pigeon’s Blood” rubies ranging from 1.27 to 5.38 carats each surrounded by a cluster of marquise and pear-shaped diamonds, according to the sale catalog.

Chinese Ceramics

The final total raised at the end of the series by Christie’s was HK$2.5 billion, according to figures compiled by Bloomberg based on Christies.com sales figures.

The sales this morning of Chinese ceramics and works of art, as well as Chinese furniture, showed strong demand, dealers said.

“The market looks very strong,” said Daniel Eskenazi a London-based art dealer who paid HK$1.8 million for a 17th century huanghuali wood-folding chair. “What’s interesting is not so much the end price but to see how deep the market is.”

A pair of 18th-century lantern stands made of rare zitan wood which once graced the Imperial Palace in Beijing and also belonged to Bela Lugosi, the Hungarian actor known for his role as Dracula, fetched HK$6.5 million, compared with a pre-sale high estimate of HK$4 million.

James Hennessey, the dealer buyer of the pair, joked that he purchased them on behalf of a client “who signs his checks in blood.”

Xu Beihong

The top lot of the HK$416 million two-day sale of fine Chinese modern paintings that ended yesterday was a hanging scroll of ink and color on paper depicting two magpies on branches by 20th century master Xu Beihong. It sold for HK$22 million, more than seven times its presale high estimate, excluding buyer’s premium.

Christie’s holds sales of Chinese furniture, ceramics and works of art and watches today.

The star lot of the watch sale is a rare Patek Philippe platinum-repeating tourbillion wristwatch estimated to sell for as much as $550,000.

Christies and Bonhams have been joined by Beijing Poly International Auction Co., Ravenel International Art Group, Seoul Auction, Tiancheng Auction and United Asian Auctioneers in an eight-day marathon ending today.

Hirst Stratocaster

Some of the star lots so far include a HK$480,000 Damien Hirst Fender Stratocaster at Ravenel, a HK$1.7 million case of Romanee-Conti Domaine de la Romanee-Conti 2005 at Christie’s and a vintage Leica camera at Bonhams.

On Nov. 24, an abstract oil painting entitled “La foret blanche II” by 20th-century Chinese-French master Chu Teh-Chun sold for a record HK$60 million at Christie’s.

Poly Auction house made a solid debut in Hong Kong, raising HK$520 million over two days of sales including jewelry, Chinese ink paintings, and Chinese modern and contemporary art.

That exceeded proceeds from Beijing rival China Guardian Auctions Co., which raised HK$455 million on Oct. 7 at its inaugural Hong Kong auction. The arrival of China’s two biggest auction houses confirms Hong Kong’s status as Asia’s commercial arts hub.

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

Muse highlights include Richard Vines on food, Jorg von Uthmann on Paris Art and James S. Russell on architecture.

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