Imperial Chinese bowl fetches £17 million

An extremely rare Chinese porcelain bowl fetched nearly £17 million -- smashing pre-sale estimates by about three times -- at a hotly anticipated Sotheby's auction in Hong Kong on Wednesday.

The modest-looking imperial ceramic bowl that was made around 900 years ago had been expected to fetch up to HK$80 million, but it was snapped up by an unidentified telephone bidder for HK$208 million (£17 million).

The price sets a new world record for a piece of ceramic from the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), according to Sotheby's, beating a 2008 record when a "Guan" Mallet Vase went for HK$67.52 million.

"The Ruyao Washer is among the most sophisticated achievements in Chinese ceramics. Its appearance on the market has created enormous excitement," Sotheby's Asia deputy chairman Nicolas Chow said.

Eight hopefuls competed for over 15 minutes during intense bidding for the extraordinarily rare flower-shaped bowl.

The interest and price is testament to the vitality of Asia's art market, which has witnessed explosive growth over the past decade, experts say.

"Ru" ceramics -- named after one of five large kilns operating under the Song -- are the rarest in China, and it is estimated that only 79 complete pieces remain in the world, most in museums.

The "Ruyao Washer" is the only bowl that features an organic floral shape and an opaque glaze.

Hong Kong has emerged as one of the biggest auction centres after New York and London, fuelled by China's economic boom and demand from Asian collectors, especially mainland Chinese buyers, who have pushed up Chinese art prices.

Besides art pieces, mainland Chinese are also regular buyers of the top lots at sales of wine and jewellery.

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