Record-breaking bowl shines at Sotheby's Asia sales

Thu Apr 5, 2012 9:04am EDT
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By Sisi Tang

HONG KONG (Reuters) - An unidentified buyer smashed the world auction record for Chinese Song dynasty ceramics after a bidding war for a 900-year-old bowl on the final day of Asian spring sales for global auction powerhouse Sotheby's.

The five days of sales of wine, jewellery, Asian and Chinese art, ceramics and watches raised nearly HK$2.5 billion ($316 million) overall, above estimates but paling against previous sales on tempered demand for certain lots as collectors became more selective.

The sales are a closely watched biannual barometer of emerging market demand in China and Asia for some of the world's most expensive artwork and luxury goods, with voracious Chinese buying turning Hong Kong into a global auction hub.

While the total take outstripped pre-sale forecasts of some HK$1.9 billion, and with 87.9 percent of more than 3,000 lots sold, it fell short of tallies for biannual sales last year as auctioneers increasingly lean toward the top-tier lots at the cost of lesser works amid challenging economic conditions.

One of the highlights came on Wednesday with the sale of the flower-shaped Northern Song ceramic, a pale colored bowl that went for HK$207.86 million ($26.65 million) after a 15 minute bidding war, triple its pre-sale estimate and setting the auction record for Song ceramics.

The previous record holder was a vase that went for HK$67.5 million ($8.6 million) four years ago.

Auctioneers said the shallow bowl, also known as a washer, was made exclusively for a Chinese emperor who could have used it to wash his calligraphy brushes.

"This kiln was in production for only 20, 30 years and made the most refined wares ever produced," said Nicholas Chow, Sotheby's Asia Deputy Chairman and International Head of Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art.   Continued...

Sotheby's Asia Deputy Chairman Nicolas Chow poses with a "Ruyao Washer" during a Sotheby's auction in Hong Kong April 4, 2012. The 900-year-old flower-shaped bowl on Wednesday fetched $26.65 million, setting a new record for Song Ceramics, Sotheby's said.