15-07-10-2199NE01A Chinese automaton clock.jpg
The Chinese enamel, ivory-mounted and paste-set musical and automaton clock that sold for €2.8m (£2.15m) at online auction house Auctionata.

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The price is the highest achieved by a German auctioneer this year.

Imperial clocks from the Guangzhou workshop are among the most sought-after works of art from the Qianlong period (1735-96). Few of them are privately owned.

This example was thought to have been acquired in China by an Irish trader c.1900 and had since been in a number of Western collections including that of the Time Museum of Rockford, Illinois.

Standing 2ft 6in (74cm), it takes the form of the magical mountain Penglai, home of the Eight Immortals of Taoism. They are depicted here alongside their attendants and the Three Star Deities. The fully functional automata sets many of the figures, the pagodas, the waterfall and a richly decorated yin-yang symbol in motion.

Beijing Bidders

Offered with a starting price of €300,000 (it had been valued by Auctionata at €1m), it prompted a ten-minute bidding battle on June 20 between six bidders from Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and New York.

The buyer was the Shanghai billionaire businessman Liu Yiqian whose collection is displayed in the Long Museum he founded with his wife in 2012. The clock will join the Chenghua 'chicken cup' bought for a record-breaking HK$250m (£21.5m) at Sotheby's Hong Kong in April 2014.

After the sale Liu praised Auctionata's 'livestream' technology, although he chose to place his bids in the old-fashioned way - by phone.