White Diamond Sells for Record $30.8 Million at Sotheby’s

A gemstone sold for HK$238.68 million ($30.8 million) in Hong Kong, the most paid for a white diamond at auction, as more records tumbled at Sotheby’s.

The largest D-color flawless type IIA diamond had been estimated to sell for HK$220 million to HK$280 million. The oval 118.28 carat-diamond was mined in southern Africa in 2011.

Earlier, a painting by Zeng Fanzhi sold for HK$180.4 million ($23.3 million) including fees, the most for an Asian contemporary artist at auction, as 16 artist records were set in the five-day marathon which ends tomorrow.

The sales reflected pent-up demand and the quality of works available to mark Sotheby’s 40th anniversary in Asia, dealers said. Chinese, U.S. and European buyers are being joined by more collectors from Southeast Asia.

“They want their artists to be mentioned in the same breath as Zeng Fanzhi or Zhang Xiaogong or Hirst or Richter as a symbol of how strong they are on the global stage,” Hong Kong-based dealer James Hennessy said of demand from the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore.

Kimberley Process

Though Sotheby’s would not disclose the identity of the seller or who cut the diamond sold today, it said the gem had undergone scrutiny by the Kimberley Process, a joint government, industry and civil society initiative to stem the flow of conflict diamonds and the sale complied with the U.S. Clean Diamond Trade Act.

“We have to check everything,” said Patti Wong, chairman of Sotheby’s Asia. “All rough diamonds have to be accounted for.”

The diamond, bought by a private telephone bidder, was the top lot in today’s jewelry sale that raised HK$744 million, Sotheby’s said.

Zeng’s 2001 oil painting “The Last Supper” had been estimated to sell for more than HK$80 million ($10.3 million) at hammer prices. People in the saleroom on Oct. 5 cheered during the bidding battle and as the hammer fell to a telephone buyer.

The work is from Switzerland-based Belgian couple Myriam and Guy Ullens de Schooten, who are selling off parts of what’s considered one of the best private collections of contemporary Chinese art.

Evening Sale

It was one of 62 works offered during the evening sale of Asian contemporary and modern art that earned HK$1.13 billion, the New York-based company said.

Zeng’s work is based on Leonardo da Vinci’s wall painting in a style that recalls Francis Bacon. Nearly four meters (13 feet) long and 2.2 meters high, it shows Christ and his 12 disciples wearing masks and communist Young Pioneers uniforms seated at a table strewn with watermelon fragments.

It was sold to a private bidder who has agreed to honor a commitment by the Ullens to lend the work to the Musee de L’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in an exhibition opening Oct. 18, said Alexander Branczik who took the winning telephone bid.

The Zeng work overtook Zhang Xiaogang’s HK$79 million record for a Chinese contemporary work and a sculpture by Japan’s Takashi Murakami that sold for US$15.1 million at Sotheby’s New York in May 2008, Sotheby’s said.

Zao Triptych

Earlier a triptych by Chinese abstract painter Zao Wou-ki sold for HK$85.2 million ($11 million). The price was the most paid at auction for the artist, who died in April, beating the HK$69 million figure set in 2011.

A work by Juan Luna sold for HK$25.88 million, a Philippine auction record, nearly five times its high estimate of HK$5.5 million. A painting by Pan Yuliang sold for HK$17.44 million, setting a record for the Chinese woman artist who died in 1977.

Indonesian artist Rudi Mantofani’s painting “Red Shadow” sold for HK$3.64 million, a record for him. Among other artist records set were German Walter Spies, whose 1934 Balinese scene “A View From the Heights” sold for HK$31.48 million, and Singapore-based Chen Wen Hsi, whose 1950s abstract work “Market” sold for HK$13.24 million.

Sotheby’s said the 3,571-lot event, is the largest and most expensive sale series it has staged in Hong Kong and carried a presale estimate of as much as HK$3.8 billion.

The event started with two days of wine auctions, including vintages from the cellars of Chateau Haut-Brion that raised a total of HK$94 million. After three days of sales, Sotheby’s raised HK$1.61 billion.

Today’s diamond price surpassed the $26.7 million paid for an unmounted 101.73-carat pear-shaped D-color Flawless Type IIA white stone at Christie’s International in Geneva on May 15.

The sales end tomorrow with auctions of watches, porcelain, Chinese ceramics and works of art.

(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 Manuela Hoelterhoff on arts, Jeremy Gerard on U.S. theater, Martin Gayford on European art, Hephzibah Anderson on books and Elin McCoy on wine.