New Collector Base Starts to Emerge
As the Sotheby’s sale in Hong Kong that I’ve been watching so intently winds down, I was struck today by the strong showing at the watch and jewelry sale, where many of the top bidders were from mainland China. From the frenzied bidding we’ve seen throughout this Sotheby’s series, it looks as though a trend is emerging in which affluent mainland Chinese are — like many non-Chinese — hedging their bets with luxury and art purchases.
One indicator of this is that these mainland bidders who were so enthusiastic about rare watches were also crazy for diamonds, rather than the Chinese jadeite up for auction. Since jadeite has no well-developed resale market, it looks as though this entire Sotheby’s series has been dominated by motivated buyers looking to mitigate the effects of inflation and diversify their assets. Not a bad choice, since watches, diamonds, and art seem to hold their value pretty well. As Bloomberg notes,
Of the 386 lots of gems and watches offered, 264 lots sold, netting a combined HK$146 million. Estimates don’t include commission.
Sotheby’s said mainland Chinese clients were among the top buyers. Of the 10 priciest watches sold, four went to Chinese bidders, said Vanessa Herrera, head of the watch department.
“We saw a number of new buyers from mainland China, many of whom were transacting at levels that we have not seen,” Quek Chin Yeow, Sotheby’s head of jewelry department and the deputy chairman for Asia, said in a statement.
Although I have to qualify what I’ve written by saying that it’s not much of a surprise that many of the top bidders hail from the mainland, since Hong Kong is, after all, in the same country and just a short boat ride away from Shenzhen, seeing as how Sotheby’s representatives were surprised by the number of new bidders from the mainland indicates that these new Chinese collectors are increasingly a force to be reckoned with, auction-wise. This all loops back to my hunch that a perfect storm is brewing for potential collectors of art or buyers of luxury items in Asia. Prices are down(ish) but not cheap, the Shanghai stock market SEEMS to have bottomed out or is soon to (but don’t quote me on that), and mainland Chinese bidders are still slightly hesitant about getting in the globetrotting auction game — for the moment, although this is changing FAST.
It is common knowledge that Sotheby’s fare like fine wines, rare watches and diamonds are a good hedge against inflation, and serve their purpose of satisfying what Art Market Monitor calls “the appetite for hard assets in Asia.”
The big surprise in this week’s HK auctions, though, has been the strong showing of art. Tomorrow’s penultimate auction, of Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, should follow expectations and do quite well — of particular interest to me personally is In an economic downturn such as this, it’s predictable that bidders will snatch up traditional hedges. But snatching up artwork and sculptures from a country whose art some bloggers and art critics still wrongly think to be a “flash in the pan” is not quite as predictable.