Mon, Nov 16, 2015 - Page 14 News List

Asian appetite for art, jewels boosts global auctions

AFP, GENEVA, Switzerland

A model displays the “Blue Moon” diamond at a Sotheby’s auction house in Geneva, Switzerland, on Wednesday.

Photo: AFP

They are not in the room rubbing shoulders with traditional wealthy buyers, instead choosing to remain in the shadows, making their multi-million US dollar bids by telephone.

Asian millionaires and billionaires last week discretely stole the show at a range of auctions, dishing out record sums for works of art and precious gemstones put on the block.

Auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s say the spectacular sales are part of a wider trend in which their business is increasingly turning toward Asia.

Christie’s Asia president Francois Curiel said that the auction house has quadrupled its Asia-based staff since 2010 to 220 to keep up with the demand.

“When I arrived in Hong Kong in 2010, our Asian clients represented 5 percent of our sales on a global scale. In 2014, they represented 31 percent,” he said.

The same is true of competing auction house Sotheby’s, where Asian clients today account for about one-third of global high-end jewelry sales, according to Sotheby’s Asia chairwoman Patti Wong (黃林詩).

“Asian participants make up a hugely important part of our global client base,” she said, adding that, over the past decade, Sotheby’s has “seen tremendous growth” from Asia.

Last week, Asian clients certainly took center stage.

The first spectacular hammer blow fell on Tuesday evening at a Christie’s art auction in New York, when former Chinese taxi driver turned billionaire financier Liu Yiqian (劉益謙) bought a famed Modigliani nude for more than US$170 million.

The 51-year-old tycoon, who made his fortune in real estate and finance in the 1990s, has made a string of purchases for his two museums in Shanghai.

The same day, Hong Kong property tycoon Joseph Lau (劉鑾雄) paid US$28.5 million for a huge 16.08-carat pink diamond at a Christie’s jewel auction in Geneva, Switzerland, and immediately renamed it “Sweet Josephine,” after his seven-year-old daughter. The auction house said it marked a world record for a pink diamond in the highest color category, “fancy vivid.”

Lau, 64, was not satisfied though.

On Wednesday, he struck again, snapping up a 12.03-carat blue diamond dubbed “Blue Moon” for a record US$48.4 million, this time at Sotheby’s in Geneva.

Sotheby’s international jewelry division chairman David Bennett said the “Blue Moon” sale broke several records, making the gemstone “the most expensive diamond, regardless of color, and the most expensive jewel ever sold at auction.”

The jewel, which is set in a ring, also fetched the highest-ever price per carat, with the buyer shelling out 4.02 million Swiss francs per carat, Bennett added.

The shimmering blue stone was also immediately renamed after Lau’s daughter, and is now called “The Blue Moon of Josephine.”

A Hong Kong-based spokeswoman for Lau confirmed the two diamond purchases.

This is not the first time Lau has bought rare jewels for his daughter. In 2009, he reportedly spent US$9.5 million on another blue diamond, which he renamed the “Star of Josephine.”

Josephine is his daughter with girlfriend and former aide Chan Hoi-wan (陳凱韻), according to local media. The 64-year-old also has two children with long-time partner Yvonne Lui (呂麗君).

Life is not all family bliss for Lau. In March last year, he was found guilty of bribing a former minister in the gambling enclave of Macau in an attempt to purchase a prime development site.

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