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Chinese Buyers Push Christie’s Auction to $493 Million

Porcelain Moon Flask
The collection of mainly Ming-dynasty works raised HK$102 million, with the most expensive lot a porcelain moon flask dated 1426-1435 that sold for HK$28 million. Source: Christie's International via Bloomberg

A series of art auctions in Hong Kong by Christie’s International Plc raised HK$3.82 billion ($493 million), almost twice as much as estimated, as affluent collectors from China and elsewhere in Asia paid record prices for several items.

The six-day sale, which concluded last night, included a recording-breaking price of HK$3.675 million paid for case of Romanee-Conti 1978, a HK$64.52 million Qing dynasty porcelain jar and a HK$4.24 million Patek Philippe wristwatch. The pre-sale estimate, excluding fees, was HK$2 billion.

“The room was buzzing,” said London-based dealer William Qian, who attended the ceramics sale where the Qing dynasty jar sold yesterday to an agent on behalf of Shanghai-based collector Liu Yiqian.

The auction is one of four held each year by Christie’s and Sotheby’s in Hong Kong, the third-largest auction center in the world after New York and London. Buyers from mainland China now dominate Hong Kong sales, dealers and auction houses say, bidding up prices of contemporary, modern and classical Chinese art, porcelains, jadeite, jewelry, watches and wine.

A sale highlight was the setting of a record for Chinese-French artist Zhu Dequn (1920) whose untitled abstract diptych sold for HK$70.7 million to a Chinese bidder.

An ink-and-colour-on-paper landscape by Li Keran (1907-1989) titled “Jinggang Mountains” was the most expensive work in the Modern Chinese Paintings sale, fetching HK$84.12 million, more than 10 times its pre-sale high estimate.

Croydon Sale

There was a spirited bidding battle yesterday for a blue and white Qianlong-era (1736-1795) vase bearing the emperor’s seal, bought by a Xiamen-based builder for HK$19.7 million.

The frenzy did not spill over into bidding in an auction to raise money by the London borough of Croydon, where seven of the 24 lots did not sell. The sale of part of a 230-piece collection, bequeathed to Croydon by collector Raymond Riesco in 1964, had met with community opposition. The collection of mainly Ming-dynasty works raised HK$102 million, with the most expensive lot a porcelain moon flask dated 1426-1435 that sold for HK$28 million.

London-based dealer Daniel Eskenazi blamed the poor performance on high estimates that discouraged bidding. Auction houses often compete with each other to win consignments by offering higher estimates to sellers, which in this case backfired, he said.

“If you put estimates close to the real value it’s less tempting to buyers,” he said. “Croydon will maybe get a sports center out of it.”

104 Carats

The top lot in yesterday’s watch sale was a Patek Philippe platinum minute-repeating perpetual calendar tourbillion wristwatch that sold for HK$4.24 million.

A diamond necklace consisting of 52 separate stones weighing a combined 104.84 carats fetched HK$62.84 million. It was the most expensive in the HK$859 million jewelry and jadeite sale, which Christie’s said raised the highest total for any jewelry auction in Asia.

In a separate auction on Nov. 26 by Sotheby’s, a snuff bottle sale from the collection of Mary and George Bloch raised $HK39.9 million as all 183 lots sold. The most expensive was a HK$4.24 million for a Qianlong-era “Double Gourd” snuff bottle.

Sotheby’s will be holding its first major auction in Beijing on Dec. 1 with a sale of modern and contemporary Chinese art including a work by Zao Wou-Ki with a high estimate of 45 million yuan ($7.4 million).

Christie’s will be holding its first auction in India with a sale of South Asian art on Dec. 19 in Mumbai.

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