Hong Kong kicks off month of multi-million-dollar auctions

Hong Kong is staging a series of auctions this month aimed at tapping mainland Chinese buyers' growing wealth, with Sotheby's autumn sale alone expected to rake in over 200 million US dollars.

The southern Chinese city of seven million people has become the world's third-largest auction hub after New York and London, thanks in large part to China's growing political and economic prowess.

Mainland Chinese often grab the top lots in sales of works of art, jewellery and wine, reflecting their growing wealth and increasingly sophisticated tastes.

Sotheby's autumn sale, which revs into high gear on Monday and runs until October 8, will see 3,200 items put on the auction block, including top-end wines, a 6.4 carat pink diamond, works by contemporary Chinese painters and an 18th century Chinese imperial seal.

The Qing Dynasty white jade seal is estimated to sell for as much as 30 million Hong Kong dollars (3.86 million US dollars), Sotheby's said.

Wealthy mainland buyers want to own a piece of Chinese history, partly out of national pride and also to confirm their own business success, said Kevin Ching, chief executive of Sotheby's in Asia.

"There is a desire to hold a piece of imperial glory - that still means a lot to people on the mainland," he told AFP.

"They're willing to pay much more for these items (than some buyers)."

The fancy vivid pink diamond could sell for 55 million Hong Kong dollars, while contemporary Chinese painter Zhang Xiaogang's "Chapter of a New Century - Birth of the People's Republic of China II" is estimated to fetch up to 23 million Hong Kong dollars, Sotheby's said.

On Monday, Korea-based Seoul Auction will hold a sale with works from Asian and Western artists, including Picasso, Renoir and Andy Warhol.

US-based Julien's Auctions is hosting a pop culture auction in the nearby gambling hub of Macau on October 9, including more than 100 items that belonged to Michael Jackson.

The sale will feature a pair of Jackson's crystal-studded gloves, Marilyn Monroe's bra, Elvis Presley's hair and a gown that belonged to Princess Diana.

And later this month, almost 2,000 bottles of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, dating from 1869 to 2009, will be auctioned in a Hong Kong sale expected to garner as much as 2.5 million US dollars.

The collection, which has never left the French vintner's private cellar, includes a pair of bottles dated 1870 which are expected to sell for 20,000 US dollars each.

"It is entirely appropriate that this landmark Lafite sale should be held in Asia, whose wine lovers have recognised its extraordinary quality, excitement, and longevity," said Serena Sutcliffe, worldwide head of wine at Sotheby's, which is organising the auction.

About 55 percent of Sotheby's total global wine sales in the first half of 2010 - 37.3 million US dollars - came from Hong Kong, followed by London and New York, it said.

In April, Sotheby's put a selection of Chinese imperial artworks up for sale which smashed world records, reflecting soaring interest in objects from the country's past.

An imperial white jade seal commissioned in the 18th century by Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty went to an Asian buyer for 12.29 million US dollars, breaking the world auction record for both white jade and imperial seals.

Its pre-sale estimate was 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.

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