Rothschild’s Lafite Leads $347 Million Hong Kong Sale Amid Volatile Stocks

By Frederik Balfour – Sep 30, 2011

Eight days after global equity markets lost $3.5 trillion in a week, Sotheby’s (BID) begins a Hong Kong sale of wine, art and jewels that will test the strength of China’s growing market for luxury goods.

It takes 12 catalogs weighing a total of 30 pounds (13.6 kilograms) to detail the 3,400 lots of Qing porcelain, Chateau Lafite wines, Chinese art and jade necklaces that New York-based Sotheby’s forecasts will help draw more than HK$2.7 billion ($347 million). Stocks have increased on hopes for a euro-region rescue fund, and the volatility won’t put off wealthy bidders from China, according to art dealers such as Stuart Marchant.

“The market is very strong,” said Marchant, a London- based dealer of fine Chinese porcelain who bought three pieces at Sotheby’s April sale in Hong Kong. “There are probably going to be a lot of mainland buyers.”

The six-day sale, featuring four private collections and an auction of the Rothschild family’s Bordeaux wines shipped straight from the Lafite cellars, comes as global equities and commodities are poised for their worst quarterly losses since 2008 amid concern Greece will default on its debt, tipping the world economy into a recession.

Sotheby’s autumn sale, including watches, jewelry and traditional Chinese paintings, has 200 fewer lots than its April auction in the city, which took a record HK$3.49 billion, compared with an estimate of HK$2.7 billion, the auction house said. The star lot in the spring sale, an 18th Century Chinese vase worth more than $23 million, failed to find a buyer.
Lafite Imperials

The latest series starts on Oct. 1 with rare wines, including six-liter Imperials of Chateau Lafite Rothschild from 2000 that are expected to sell for as much as $20,000 each and three liter jeroboams of Cristal champagne from the cellars of a private American collector worth $6,000.

Domaine de la Romanee-Conti burgundy wines from 1988 costing as much as $10,000 for a standard 75 centiliter bottle will be offered the following day.

Jamie Ritchie, the head of Sotheby’s Asian wine sales, said he is keeping his fingers crossed that the auction house will achieve another sell-out auction in Hong Kong, where it hasn’t had an unsold bottle in its last 15 sales.

Debra Meiburg, a Master of Wine who attended a private tasting of Bordeaux from 2000 yesterday hosted by Sotheby’s, says demand for classic French reds remains resilient.
Lasting Love

“I’m a bit concerned how wine prices have become stratospheric and wine has become positioned as an investment in the minds of collectors,” she said in a telephone interview. “But we haven’t reached the summit yet, there is lots of enthusiasm for auctions in Hong Kong.”

Also on Oct. 2, an evening auction will offer 90 works of Chinese contemporary art from Guy Ullens, founder of Beijing’s largest private art museum, estimated to raise $10 million, anchored by the sale of a work by Zeng Fanzhi that is estimated by Sotheby’s to fetch as much as $2.6 million.

The following evening, an oil by Zhang Xiaogang from his Bloodline series has a high estimate of $8.3 million according to the catalog. At Sotheby’s April sale in the city, Zhang’s triptych “Forever Lasting Love” fetched HK$79 million with fees, more than double the HK$30 million top estimate.

A highlight of the Oct. 3 sale of 20th Century Chinese Art is an abstract landscape oil painted by Chinese master Zao Wou- ki in 1968 that is estimated to sell for as much as $4.5 million. Sotheby’s is also offering 36 works by Zhang Daqian.

“Zhang’s work is the most popular in the market and the price has kept going up,” said C.K. Cheung, head of Sotheby’s Fine Chinese Paintings Department, at an exhibition of the artist’s works earlier this month in Hong Kong. “Who knew the Chinese art market would have gone to a such a high level after Lehman Brothers went bankrupt.”
Scroll Sale

In May, Sotheby’s held a special sale of 25 of Zhang’s works in Hong Kong including an ink-and-color hanging scroll that sold for a record HK$191 million to an Asian telephone bidder, more than nine times the high estimate.

Oct. 5 will feature the second installment of the Meiyintang collection of Chinese porcelain assembled over six decades by Stephen Zuellig, a Swiss businessman whose family made its fortune distributing pharmaceuticals.

That day will also see 358 lots of jewelry offered, including a ring featuring a 9.27 carat pink diamond known as the Golconda Pink that carries a high estimate of $19 million.

Jewels and watches from the estate of Hong Kong actress and singer Anita Mui, who died of cancer in 2003, also go under the hammer on Oct. 5, followed the next day by the final sale of watches.

Buyer’s premium, the commission added to the hammer price of works sold, is 25 percent for the first HK$400,000, 20 percent for lots fetching as much as HK$8 million, and 12 percent above that. The wine premium is a flat 21 percent. Estimates reflect the hammer price, before premium.

Potential buyers who aren’t represented at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre sale can bid via Sotheby’s online bidding system.

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