Genuine Chinese antiques frequently change hands for significant sums, especially imperial porcelain pieces. Collectors often scour trade fairs and private dealerships, hoping to find a new addition to showcase. It’s at auction that the serious business often unfolds, though.
Back in 2017, a collector placed a ceramic Ru Guanyao brush washer for sale by Sotheby’s Hong Kong. Dating back to the Northern Song dynasty (dated 907-1127, for the uninitiated), this lot sold for an eye-watering £27 million. That was a world record for an antique ceramic hailing from China – until now. In June 2021, a lot sold that shattered this record.
The modern history of the new record holder – a vase – began in 1999. At this point, the item sold for a comparatively meagre £385,000 at Christie’s London. Sure, that’s hardly chump change, but as we’re about to explain, the price has soared exponentially since then.
Hong Kong native William Chak, arguably the world’s most famous and successful dealer of Chinese antiques, bought the lot from Christie’s. He sold the item to an unnamed collector at some stage over the last 20 years, who in turn placed the vase up for sale through Poly Auctions in Hong Kong.
Before we get into numbers, let’s explain a little more about the vase in question. The lot was a revolving vase, created from four separate pieces with an Imperial yangcai ruby ground. The aesthetics of the vase display a soaring phoenix, and the ceramic dates back to the Qianlong dynasty, 1736-1795.
Despite its age, the item is in comparatively flawless condition. The rarity of the lot also played into the price, as very few comparable vases are still in circulation. At just shy of 25 inches in height, this item is believed to be the second-tallest surviving example.
That’s enough setting the scene, though – it’s time to talk business. What was the final price of this rare antique?
The answer is just under £30 million. The buyer remains anonymous, but they are clearly a significant player in the antique trading world. Do not be surprised if you see this vase for sale again in the future, once again soaring in price. The older it gets, it appears, the more desirable such an item will become.