The Shanghai auction late yesterday exceeded its pre-sale estimate of $16m. The top lot was a diamond and ruby necklace that sold for a hammer price of $2.94m.
Though the 39-lot sale was small by international standards, the event was as much about marketing and gaining access to the growing ranks of high-net-worth Chinese by the London-based house.
“As Europe was in the 19th century and the US in the 20th century, China will become the most important market in 20 or 30 years,” Francois Pinault, the founder of Christie’s owner Kering, said.
Still, the most lucrative part of the Chinese art and antiques market — valued at $14.3bn in 2012 by the European Fine Art Foundation — is off-limits to foreign auction houses.
Asked when the Chinese government might relax this restriction, Christie’s chief executive Steven Murphy said “We are very happy to be in China with the myriad offerings on offer tonight, and it is not for us to ask or wonder about the restrictions.”
Judging from the excitement last night, the inaugural sale was a success. During a prolonged battle for a jadeite Buddha that sold for 5.5m yuan (€666,662) compared with a high estimate of 800,000 yuan, the room of more than 600 people erupted into applause after every subsequent bid.
The top work of art was a 1969 painting by Pablo Picasso entitled Homme Assis (Seated Man) that sold for 9.6m yuan, compared with a high estimate of 6.2m after protracted bidding by five mainland buyers in the room. A synthetic polymer and silkscreen ink by Andy Warhol sold for 4m yuan.
A lot containing a double magnum and a case of 1982 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild sold for 550,000 yuan, while an 18 carat pink gold Patek Philippe tourbillon wristwatch sold for 3.5m yuan.
Christie’s also held private sales of works by Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter and a work by Picasso valued at $12m. A private sale of jewelry includes a 75.97 carat, D flawless diamond valued at $21m. Results have not been released.