In terms of the bottom line, Christie’s latest Hong Kong HK$1.07bn (£83.5m) premium-inclusive Asian series was a far cry from the firm’s record-breaking HK$2.4bn (then £162.2m) extravaganza last year.
With vendors across the board reticent to consign in this financial climate for the sales from May 24-27, a more streamlined 12-catalogue series of classical, modern and contemporary art, watches, wine and jewellery comprised just 1659 lots compared to the 2448-lot outing last spring.
In terms of demand, this series showed strength in the market across the board for quality works with provenance. This trend was especially noticeable in the traditional money-spinning field of Imperial Chinese ceramics and works of art.
The 186-lot mixed-vendor Imperial sale on May 27 took four hours to conduct and was the series' most lucrative banker at HK$273.9m (£21.4m), just shy of the pre-sale upper estimate of HK$280m (£21.86m).
"The mood was buoyant and we found the market to be as strong as it has ever been. There are as many Western and Asian buyers and Chinese ceramics and works of art are still holding their value," commented Christie's head of department Pola Antebi.
Overall, selling rates by volume were in line with past series and ranged from 56 per cent for the classical paintings outing to 97 per cent for the wine sale, with the five contemporary and modern Asian and south east Asian art auctions ranging from 74 per cent to 90 per cent.
The series' most coveted entry was a pair of Kangxi period Imperial gilt bronze ritual bells dated to 1715 in the Imperial sale, shown here. They were unusual for being a pair (originally there would have been 12) and for their dragon rather than trigram motif.
Western, Hong Kong and mainland Chinese bidding for this private Japanese consignment illustrated the depth of interest for top-end Imperial works of art. The winning HK$40m (£3.1m) hammer price placed in the room by London and New York-based dealership Littleton and Hennessy was in line with recent comparable examples. A single Qianlong period bell in better condition made HK$27m (now £2.1m) at Christie's Hong Kong last May. It had been a sleeper at Bellmans of Sussex in October 2007 when it made £400,000.
Hong Kong buyers took home 45 per cent of the sale, with mainland Chinese bidders the auction's second most prolific group of buyers. But participation from major Western dealers and collectors continues to be central to the buoyancy of this market.
Littleton and Hennessy also clinched the week's second highlight: an Imperial blue and white Yongzheng (1723-35) dragon bottle vase at HK$27m (£2.1m).
The price for this privately consigned vase, originally in the Robert Chang collection, illustrates just how far the Qing Imperial porcelain market has come in the last decade. It sold for a premium-inclusive HK$3.98m (now £311,000) at Christie's Hong Kong in 1999.
The same could be said for the best Ming dynasty porcelain: a Ming dynasty Chenghua period (1465-87) blue and white dish from the Du Boulay collection that made £60,000 at Bonhams in London 2003 realised HK$7m (£546,875) here.
A Ming dynasty Wanli (1573-1619) mark and period dragon box and cover headlined Bonhams' three-catalogue May 20-21 series that comprised Chinese ceramics and works of art, jewellery, wristwatches and wine. It fetched HK$2.2m (£171,875).
Much has been made in the press of the emergence of the mainland Chinese art market and the lifeblood this has injected into the Asian auction merry-go-round. But until now there has not been a reputable, well-organised international Asian art fair on the mainland to cater to this domestic demand.
From June 11-14, Hong Kong's Chak's Investment together with China's Asia Zenith Expo will be staging the first of what they hope will become an annual event billed International Antiques and Arts Expo 2009 at Tai Yuan's World Trade Hotel in Shanxi province. Around 50 dealers will exhibit from Hong Kong, mainland China, Taiwan and the West, including London dealers Knapton & Rasti, Priestley and Ferraro, Jan Van Beers and Robert Brandt.
By Kate Hunt
£1 = HK$12.8