Sotheby’s six-day auction in Hong Kong ended last night with a total sale of HK$2.18 billion ($281 million), led by wines from El Bulli’s cellar and a jeweled Patek Philippe clock that set an auction record for a clock by the Swiss timepiece maker.
Compared with two years ago, when catalogs were fatter, this week’s auctions in Hong Kong were more modest affairs, dealers said. In the 2011 spring sale, Sotheby’s raised HK$3.5 billion with fees and in last year’s spring marathon, the New York-based auction house raised HK$2.46 billion. This year’s presale estimate was HK$1.7 billion at hammer prices.
“A lot of the froth is gone and there’s a lot of activity from dealers which is very healthy,” said James Hennessey, who paid HK$21.4 million for a Yongzheng period vase on behalf of a Chinese client. “It’s increasingly hard for auction houses and everybody else to get fresh material to the market.”
Sotheby’s now faces increased competition from mainland auction houses gaining a foothold in Hong Kong. Beijing-based China Guardian Auctions Co. raised HK$293 million during a two-day auction on April 4 to 5 compared with HK$455 made last October in its inaugural Hong Kong sale.
Tiancheng International, a Hong Kong-based auction house with mainland Chinese backing, achieved HK$75.6 million in a sale of fine Chinese paintings and modern and contemporary art on April 6.
The Sotheby’s sale was not without its highlights. “The Magpie’s Treasure Nest Clock,” made by Patek Philippe in 1992, sold for HK$18.04 million, compared with a presale high estimate of HK$5 million.
The 52-centimeter (20.5 inch) high clock weighs 15.1 kilograms (33.2 pounds), with 24.95 carats of diamonds, 6.02 carats of sapphires, rubies weighing 13.17 carats and one oval tanzanite weighing 104.75 carats, according to the Sotheby’s catalog.
The clock was the most expensive lot in the Sotheby’s fine watches sale held on April 7 in Hong Kong that raised HK$221.5 million, the most ever for a Sotheby’s sale of timepieces.
In an auction on April 4 that raised HK$14.1 million for chef Ferran Adria’s El Bulli Foundation, three bottles of Romanee Conti 1990 from the former Michelin three-star restaurant’s cellar sold for HK$563,500 (or $24,200 per bottle), including a 22.5 percent buyer’s premium, compared with a presale estimate of HK$260,000 to HK$380,000.
The most expensive lots from the two-day wine sale were two cases of Chateau Lafite 1982, which sold for HK$1,041,250 each, compared with a presale high estimate of HK$280,000, proving that Asian thirst for French first growths has not slackened.
Works from a single-owner sale by contemporary Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara, whose neo-pop images of mischievous, large-eyed girl graced canvases, ceramic plates and a skateboard, raised HK$41 million, more than twice the presale estimate.
The most expensive piece in the 35-lot Nara sale was 1997 acrylic on canvas entitled “Sleepless Night (Standing)” that fetched HK$9.4 million, nearly double its presale high estimate.
The top lot in the Southeast Asian paintings sale, which is becoming an increasingly important category in Hong Kong auctions, was Indonesian artist Lee Man Fong’s “Bali Life,” which sold for HK$21.4 million, compared with a presale high estimate of HK$5.5 million.
Poly Auction, another Beijing-based newcomer to Hong Kong last fall, raised HK$645.4 million during a sale of watches, jewelry, Chinese paintings and ceramics held in Hong Kong on April 6 and 7.
(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 Elin McCoy on wine, Jeremy Gerard on New York theater, Jeffrey Burke on books and Warwick Thompson on London theater.