Lau’s $16.7 Million Birds Lift Christie’s to Record

Hong Kong billionaire Joseph Lau’s HK$129.5 million ($16.7 million) purchase of two pairs of imperial crane statues lifted Christie’s International to its highest Hong Kong auctions total, driven by Chinese buyers.

Christie’s sold HK$3.18 billion of art and collectibles over a week, including yesterday’s HK$1.13 billion auction of Chinese antiques. The London-based company’s total in Hong Kong kept it just ahead in the region from Sotheby’s, which held its own record HK$3.09 billion sale in the city in October.

“There are some very aggressive bids out there,” said Johnny Chong, 50, a Hong Kong-based collector who paid HK$1.2 million for a Qing dynasty imperial edict with a HK$60,000 presale top estimate on behalf of a mainland collector. “Prices are mostly at the high end of expectations. But if you see something you really want, you just have to bite the bullet.”

The autumn sales by the two biggest auction houses in Hong Kong, the world’s third-biggest auction market after New York and London, show the strength of demand for luxury items in Asia.

London-based Christie’s had estimated the week’s sale at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre would total more than HK$1.7 billion. The company had predicted yesterday’s sale would fetch at least HK$555 million.

Lau’s imperial cloisonne enamel double crane censers, or incense burners, were estimated to sell for as much as HK$120 million. They are from the Fonthill House collection of Alfred Morrison, a 19th-century English collector of Chinese art, according to Christie’s.

Warhol Purchase

Lau, who controls Chinese Estates Holdings Ltd. and had a $6 billion fortune in February according to Forbes Asia, paid $17.4 million in November 2006 for “Mao,” one of Andy Warhol’s portraits of the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong, a record at that time.

The five-feet-high imperial cranes Lau bought yesterday may have been commissioned by Qing Dynasty Emperor Qianlong while he was still a prince as a birthday gift for his father, according to Christie’s.

The week of luxury buying ended today with a daylong sale of watches that added HK$103 million to Christie’s total, compared with an estimate of HK$70 million. The most expensive timepiece was a Patek Philippe minute repeater that sold for HK$5.5 million to an Asian collector, Christie’s said.

White Moonflask

Yesterday’s other highlights included a pink-enameled blue and white moonflask from the Qianlong period that sold for HK$123.9 million, while a yellow-ground famille rose vase from the Jiaqing period (1796-1820) fetched HK$90.3 million. Both items went for more than three times their top estimates. About 85 percent of the lots sold yesterday went to buyers from China, Hong Kong or Taiwan, Christie’s said.

“If China’s economy keeps growing at its current pace, antique prices will only go up over the next 30 years,” said Chong, who had kept his paddle up throughout the bidding battle for the Jiaqing-period scroll.

Chong said the buyer will donate the scroll, together with a bronze seal he bought at yesterday’s auction for HK$47,500, to a museum in Liaocheng in his home province of Shandong.

The Nov. 30 sale of classical and modern Chinese paintings, including works by Fu Baoshi and Zhang Daqian, brought in HK$669 million, 91 percent more than a year earlier and more than double the company’s estimate of HK$260 million.

Pink Diamond

The day before, Christie’s jewelry department all wore something pink for the HK$179.9 million sale of a 14.23 carat pink diamond, the highest auction price for a diamond in Asia. The jewelry sale was Christie’s biggest worldwide, totaling HK$612.6 million.

That followed three days of sales of Asian contemporary and Chinese 20th-century art that broke more than a dozen artist records, including those for Bali-based German painter Walter Spies and Chinese expatriate Sanyu, whose “Potted Chrysanthemum in a Blue and White Jardiniere” fetched HK$53.3 million.

Christie’s art sales include a buyer’s premium of 25 percent on the first HK$400,000, 20 percent up to and including HK$8 million, and 12 percent of the remainder. Estimates are for the hammer price, which doesn’t include the commission.

(Updates with total in second paragraph, watch sale in ninth.)
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