Sotheby’s Hong Kong set the auction world alight with its Spring Sales Series, a spectacular week of art and luxury that achieved a near record of HK$3.852 billion (US$496 million).
Triumphant Hong Kong Spring Sales Reaffirm Sotheby’s Market Leadership in Asia
B uilding on the momentum of innovations, which focused on client experience and expansion of the collector base, the 2022 series in Hong Kong was a demonstration of Sotheby’s continued leadership in Asia. At the conclusion of the week, the 23 live and online auctions in the series earned an aggregate HK$3.852 billion – far surpassing the projected HK$3.1 billion overall and about 25% greater than the results of the previous series in October. That makes it almost the highest total achieved in the history of this biannual series in Asia, second only to Sotheby’s landmark 40th Anniversary Autumn Sale in 2013.
As an indicator of the success of the spring auctions overall, seven works sold at prices higher than HK$100 million (US$13 million) including works by Louise Bourgeois, Wu Guanzhong, Yoshitomo Nara, Pablo Picasso, and Zhang Daqian, plus the De Beers Blue diamond and an Imperial Seal of the Qianlong Emperor. We present details of these highlights below. More than 30 new auctions records were set at the conclusion of the week.
Participation in Hong Kong auctions has been on the rise, as Sotheby's takes the lead in fostering an emerging collector base, driving strong results across all board, with a combined sell-through rate of 88% and a record high percentage of younger bidders. The wide range of offerings attracted a diversity of buyers with 24% of bidders new to Sotheby’s, and within this group more than half were younger than age 40. Millennials accounted for about a third of all bidders across the sales and Gen-Z collectors made their presence felt in Contemporary Art.
The success of the series also reflect the expansion of online sales and new digital formats, all of which worked to broaden Sotheby’s client reach. Of the lots sold at auction, 78% went to online buyers, and half of the season’s new bidders participated in auctions online. Digital platforms continue to be a key area of client engagement with unique visitor traffic to our website reaching an all-time high. Interactive virtual tours on sothebys.com attracted thousands of viewers in the lead up and during the sales.
"We are proud to be the first to set such a strong benchmark to Asia’s auction season with a meaningful offering and delivery of the best to our clients."
The ‘De Beers Blue’ gets the crown for the most valuable lot of the season
The largest fancy vivid blue diamond offered at auction, the dazzling 15.10 carat step-cut jewel set the benchmark for the diamond market when the De Beers Blue sold for HK$451 million ($57.5 million) to a phone bidder far above its presale projections, placing it among the highest prices achieved for diamonds of any colour. An eight-minute battle between four bidders took the price well beyond the HK$380 million (US$48 million) estimate and almost touched the current record for a blue diamond set in 2016 by The Oppenheimer Blue, which sold for US$57.5 million. A wonder of nature, the De Beers Blue had been cut from an exceptional rough stone discovered at the Cullinan Mine in South Africa in 2021. It re-emerged as the largest vivid blue diamond ever to appear at auction and the largest internally flawless step cut vivid blue diamond that the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) has ever graded. Sotheby’s holds six of the top seven highest prices for Fancy Vivid Blue diamonds and two of the top three prices for diamonds of any colour.
Sotheby’s continues to be the market leader for Zhang Daqian
The week of auctions finished with an epic finale when a blue-green landscape by Zhang Daqian sold for a record HK$370.5 million (US$47.2 million). At the Fine Chinese Paintings auction, the atmosphere was thick with excitement in the sale room. And when the hammer came down after a session of intense bidding, Zhang Daqian's masterpiece broke the world auction record for the artist, previously set by Sotheby's Hong Kong in 2016. It is also the most valuable Chinese ink painting ever sold by Sotheby’s and the second highest price for any artwork sold at Sotheby’s Asia.
Collectors from the world of luxury shattering records
In the white glove sale, The Nevadian Collector, the only known pink gold 2nd series retailed by Gobbi Milano soared to HK$60.3 million (US$7.7 million). From a historically important private collection of vintage watches, the sale presented 40 exceptional timepieces – the vast majority Patek Philippe – which chart the "Golden Years" of horological development from the 1940s through the 1980s. Important Watches I marked the first time a Patek Philippe Reference 5217 was offered at auction, and it realised HK$17 million (US$2.3 million). Patek Philippe achieved top prices, as a Reference 5016, Reference 3940, and Reference 5971 in the sale all set auction records for their respective references. In Wine, the Prestigious French Wines from a Great Cellar auction was also 100% sold, achieving an above-estimate total of HK$36 million (US$4.6 million).
Modern and Contemporary Art continue their ascent
Modern and Contemporary art sales together realised HK$1.56 billion (US$198.8 million). Collectors eagerly pursued works by blue-chip artists as well as rising stars, with 90% on average of the works finding buyers across the four sales. More than 20 auction records were set, and four works alone achieved more than HK$500 million combined. A 1939 portrait of Dora Maar to a Japanese collector for HK$169.4 million (US$21.6 Million), far surpassing presale estimates and reaching the second highest price for a work by Picasso at auction in Asia. Unrivalled amongst other examples of Bourgeois’s iconic wall-mounted arachnids, Spider IV fetched HK$129.2 million (US$16.5 million), becoming the most valuable sculpture ever sold in Asia. The total of just the two Contemporary Art sales, at HK$908.6 million (US$115.8 million), marked the second highest amount for a series in this category staged at Sotheby’s Asia.
Rarity and provenance drive strong demand for Chinese Art
A magnificent imperial seal carved for the Qianlong Emperor fetched a record-breaking HK$153.3 million (US$19.5 million), sold to an Asian private collector and setting the highest price for any seal ever sold at auction in Asia, surpassing the famous imperial white jade seal from the Qianlong period sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2021 for HK$145.7 million (US$18.8 million). The highly anticipated imperial seal bearing the inscription “Qianlong yulan zhi bao” (“admired by his Majesty the Qianlong Emperor”), is regarded as the most iconic amongst all connoisseurial seals, carrying the weight of Chinese art history. For such a marvel to appear at auction is a cause for celebration alone.
For Chinese works of art, the three attributes of rarity, provenance, and condition are the principle drivers of value, and works that possess all three qualities at the highest level will always find demand in any market and in any climate. These principles were on clear display at Gems of Imperial Porcelain from the Private Collection of Joseph Lau sale, which offered a tightly curated assemblage of imperial porcelains and works of art from the Ming and Qing dynasties, all of which was 100% sold.
Offerings from prestigious private collections achieved ‘white-glove’ status
The spring auctions presented treasures from highly respective private collections, the works of which were all 100% sold, including Prestigious French Wines from a Great Cellar, The Nevadian Collector, Gems of Imperial Porcelain from the Private Collection of Joseph Lau, and Properties from the Collection of Sir Run Run Shaw.