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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Sotheby's sells record $447 million of Asian art

Hong Kong Hong Kong

The HK$3.49 billion tally for its 8-day Asian sales in Hong Kong -- now considered the world's third most important art auction hub after New York and London, was the firm's best season ever underpinned by strong Chinese buyers -- eclipsing even its blockbuster $400 million autumn season last October.

But beneath the banner results were some signs of weakness in the red-hot Chinese ceramics market that is now a cornerstone of Sotheby's biannual and closely watched Asian sales.

A major collection of Chinese ceramics, seen as one of the best to be sold in decades, failed to live up to expectations in a conspicuous setback for the market, with 30 percent of the porcelain going unsold amid muted bidding, while a collection of Chinese imperial objets d'art including ancient jades, a gilt dragon and a golden robe ended up 55 percent unsold.

The Meiyintang collection, assembled over half a century by Swiss pharmaceutical tycoons, the Zuellig brothers, was seen to be perhaps the best remaining classic Western collection of Ming and Qing ceramics, but flaws in a few major works, tighter credit requirements for buyers and sky-high estimates weighed on sentiment, dealers and collectors said.

"I think they (Sotheby's) pushed a bit too hard on the prices," said Nader Rasti, a Western dealer of Asian antiques.

One exceptional piece -- an eight-inch tall Qing vase with a brilliantly painted pair of golden pheasants, near flawless save for a crack on the stem fastened by rivets, had been expected to fetch $23 million, but bidding spluttered after the opening price was set at HK$100 million.

The so-called "falangcai" vase with exquisite enamelling, hammered off in 1997 for just HK$9 million, was sold privately after the auction for HK$200 million, Sotheby's said.

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