Cover Story

Looking beyond paintings

Updated: 2011-02-18 10:50

By Yan Yiqi (China Daily European Weekly)

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Collectors extend gaze to other valuables

Art dominates Chinese auctions but it is not the only choice available to collectors.

Traditional Chinese musical instruments, wristwatches and fine liquor are also becoming the new darlings of an emerging market.

A rare Song Dynasty (960-1279) guqin, a traditional seven-stringed zither, sold for a record 136.64 million yuan (15.54 million euros) at Beijing Poly's autumn auction on Dec 4.

The price broke the record for a Chinese instrument fetching an auction price of more than 100 million yuan and became the highest for any auctioned musical instrument in the world.

Since 2003, when a guqin crafted in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) sold for 8.91 million yuan, the instrument has been attracting much attention in the Chinese auction market.

In a 2010 spring auction, the China Guardian, Beijing Poly, Beijing Forever and Beijing Council groups sold a total of 15 guqin. Four of the 15 instruments hit the price of 10 million yuan each.

"This is a time of revival for traditional culture," explains guqin master Chen Leiji of the buzz over the instrument.

Unlike the guqin, wristwatches have long been popular among international bidders. But Chinese buyers have also started to play an important role in the market in recent years.

In the autumn auction of Beijing Poly, 241 watches were sold for a total of 428.3 million yuan. The highest price was for a Patek Phillipe men's wristwatch, hitting 4.48 million yuan.

Patek Phillipe, Vacheron Constantin, A. Lange & Sohne and Jaeger-Le Coultre as well as other world famous wristwatch brands are included in China's watch auctions, says Wang Ting from Beijing Poly.

Wang believes Chinese bidders are not merely pursuing the fame and rarity in buying these watches.

"They are becoming more aware of the real value of such watches in recent years and have a mature understanding of the collection," Wang says. The watch auction market will see huge expansion in China, she says.

It will come as no surprise that European fine wines have been extremely popular among Chinese buyers in recent years. The emerging Chinese liquor market, on the other hand, has surprised many.

Since 2009, an increasing number of people have been turning their attention to Chinese white liquor, or baijiu, including Moutai and Wuliangye.

A bottle of Moutai produced in 1958 was sold for 1.46 million yuan by Hangzhou-based Xiling Yinshe Auction in its 2010 autumn auction, breaking the record for Chinese liquor auctions. The sale also brought a new round of bidding frenzy over the liquor.

Feng Chong, the person in charge of the Chinese wine department of Xiling Yinshe Auction, says there are mainly three reasons for the liquor's popularity among bidders: For drinking, investing and collecting. Each category makes up one-third of the buyers.

The price of these liquors also depends on their production date. Those produced in the 1950s can fetch 1 million yuan, while those in the 1970s and 1980s are usually sold for 30,000 yuan to 40,000 yuan, Feng says.

"Unlike arts, bidding for liquor is more practical to Chinese people," Feng says.

"Businessmen, especially those in Zhejiang province, will feel honored to be able to treat their guests to rare liquor, which promises good quality and taste."


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