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Christie's Triumphs in Hong Kong Sales


Sales of a pair of singing-bird pistols and vintage Chateau Latour could beat Christie's Hong Kong record

A pair of singing-bird pistols made of gold and inlaid with gems sold for HK$45.5 million ($5.8 million) at a Christie's International sale in Hong Kong yesterday.

A huge round of applause erupted after a 10-minute fight that Christie's head of watches Aurel Bacs described as "an epic bidding war between two of the world's most connoisseur collectors." The only publicly known matching pair in the world were included in a 456-lot sale of timepieces that raised HK$164.7 million ($21.2 million), the highest tally for an Asian watch sale, the London-based auction house said. Two Patek Philippe watches sold for more than $1 million each.

Christie's has raised HK$1.04 billion, including weekend sales of wine and modern art, in four days. The weeklong series — with gems, Chinese ceramics and classical paintings to come — is poised to beat its Hong Kong sale record of HK$2.4 billion. Last year's equivalent Christie's auctions totaled HK$2.29 billion.

The timepieces followed an auction of Southeast Asian art led by Belgian expatriate painter Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Merpres, whose depiction of a Balinese temple festival sold for HK$7.7 million.

The morning sale yesterday raised HK$49.4 million and set 15 individual artist records, including one for a work by 20th century Indonesian master Affandi that sold for HK$3.6 million, and one for "La Piedra IV" by his Filipino contemporary Fernando Zobel that fetched HK$1.6 million, four times its estimate.

Chateau Latour

Prices have surged for Filipino artists in recent years as a dearth of quality works for sale fostered speculation at auctions, dealers said.

Yesterday's sales came after a strong start to the Hong Kong auctions that saw buyers spend HK$821.2 million on modern art and vintage bottles of Chateau Latour and other wines at the weekend.

Key to Christie's success will be the June 1 auction of Chinese ceramics and works of art. A HK$3.49 billion marathon by Sotheby's (BID) last month in the same category achieved prices many times their estimates, while others failed to sell.

A highlight for Christie's is a Qianlong-era vase, similar to one that last year attracted the highest bid ever for a Chinese artwork.

Hibiscus Flowers

The 15 inch (38.1 cm) vase being offered on June 1 is lantern shaped, with scrolling hibiscus flowers on a yellow background. The Qianlong vase is estimated at HK$200 million and has the same pierced decoration as the 18th-century Imperial vase that was bid to 51.6 million pounds ($83.2 million) at Bainbridges in London last November.

Bainbridges said in February that it hadn't received payment and has since refused to comment. Mindful of such reports, Christie's introduced for the first time the requirement that bidders pay a deposit of HK$1 million on any items valued at HK$8 million or more.

The Chinese antiques trade has an annual value of more than $10 billion. China overtook the U.S. as the biggest auction market for fine art last year, research company Artprice said.

Zao and Zeng

The two top lots at Christie's May 28 evening sale were painted by 20th century artist Zao Wou-ki. They were sold to private Asian collectors for $5.27 million and $4.98 million including buyer's premiums — more than twice estimates.

Works by contemporary Chinese painter Zeng Fanzhi also fetched high prices in the packed auction room, with three works among the 10 most expensive, including a self portrait bought by a European buyer for $4.83 million.

Christie's watch sale yesterday tallied 42 percent more than the previous record of HK$116.1 million in 2007, the auction house said.

Balfour is Asia correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek in Hong Kong.

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