A selection of Chinese imperial works of art smashed world records after fierce bidding at Sotheby's sales Thursday, as China's rise sparked international interest in objects of its glorious past.
An imperial white jade seal commissioned by Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty in the 18th century went to an Asian buyer for 12.29 million US dollars, breaking the world auction record for both white jade and imperial seals.
The price was almost double its estimate of about 6.4 million dollars.
Another star lot, a ceremonial pearl necklace believed to have belonged to Qing Emperor Yongzheng in the early 18th century, smashed the world record for any imperial jewel at auction after a telephone bidder snapped it up for 8.7 million dollars. The price was more than five times its highest estimate.
"They are objects that crystallised imperial power. These are something that can easily capture our clients' imagination," said Nicolas Chow, Sotheby's international head of Chinese ceramics and works of art.
He said interest in Chinese works of art was growing.
"Everything is about China today," he said. "Our worry is actually not finding buyers. Our worry is how do we feed that monster that is growing on the other side of the harbour, because great objects are getting scarcer and scarcer."
Other eye-catching "objects of power" included a three-tiered enamelled box from the 18th century, which broke the world record for Beijing imperial enamel ware at auction after it sold for 3.53 million dollars.
A bamboo-veneer sceptre designed for and used by Emperor Qianlong commanded 2.0 million dollars, breaking the world record for carved bamboo at auction.
Although the majority of bidders who packed the auction room were Chinese, Chow said there was also "very strong participation" in the bidding from Western buyers.
Both Sotheby's and rival Christie's said Hong Kong had become the world's third largest auction hub after New York and London, thanks to the rising political and economic prowess of China.
The auction giants said mainland Chinese buyers often grabbed the top lots in their recent sales of works of art, jewellery, and fine wine, reflecting their growing wealth and increasingly sophisticated taste for fine art.