Record Diamond, Qianlong Vases Lift $418 Million Auction

The biggest briolette-style diamond ever sold at auction, Qianlong period vases and a painting by the modern Chinese artist Zhang Daqian helped lift Christie’s International’s Hong Kong spring sales.

The five days of events that ended last night raised HK$3.2 billion ($418 million), the auction house said in an e-mailed release today. The sales showed the continued buying power of Asian clients, even as China’s expansion is slowing from the pace that turned it into the world’s No. 2 economy.

“The market has most definitely recovered since last year,” said William Qian, a London-based dealer of ceramics who bid unsuccessfully for a Qianlong (1736-1795) blue and white Sanskrit-inscribed bell that sold for HK$15.6 million, 12 times its high estimate of HK$1.2 million.

The bell was part of a sale from the estate of Y.C. Chen, one of the most respected dealers of Chinese art in which all 68 lots sold, including the most expensive, a pair of iron-red Qianlong famille rose vases for HK$43.6 million yesterday.

The highlight of the May 28 jewelry sale was the 75.36-carat, water-drop-shaped diamond necklace that sold for an auction record of HK$86.1 million for a briolette-style gem. The Type IIa diamond is known for its exceptional transparency, according to the Christie’s catalog.

Zhang Daqian

A set of four hanging scrolls of ink and color on paper by Zhang (1899-1983) entitled “Lotus” was the top lot in the Chinese modern paintings sale, selling for HK$80.5 million with fees, more than five times its high estimate of HK$15 million at hammer prices.

A number of artist records were set during the Asian contemporary sale, though none by mainland Chinese artists. The results reflected how collectors are looking increasingly to southeast Asia, dealers said.

“Still Life With Tropical Fruits” by Singaporean Georgette Chen fetched HK$5.05 million, while a 1932 ink and gouache on silk work by Nguyen Phan Chanh entitled “La Marchande de Riz,” which was originally appraised at just 50 pounds ($75) set a record for a Vietnamese artist by selling for HK$3.03 million.

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

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