Last Word

Doing your bidding

Updated: 2011-08-05 11:15

By Mark Graham (China Daily European Weekly)

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Doing your bidding
Patti Wong says wealthy Chinese are big buyers at auction houses. Mark Graham / for China Daily

Veteran at famed auction house has witnessed rocketing growth, much of it fueled by Chinese Buyers

The first time Patti Wong entered a buzzing auction room, with its thrilling, live action-drama, she was mesmerized, realizing instantly she had found her professional calling. Her instincts proved to be spot on. Wong went on to join the famous Sotheby's auction house, rising through the ranks to become the London-based chairwoman of the company's Asian division, a job that involves much intercontinental shuttling back and forth.

In the past year, business at the esteemed auction house in Hong Kong has skyrocketed, with world price records regularly breaking with the sales of wines, paintings, antiques, jewelry and watches. Affluent buyers from Asia - especially the newly rich from the Chinese mainland - are spending millions on contemporary Chinese art, cases of vintage Bordeaux wines and classic pieces of Chinese pottery.

Hong Kong has come from nowhere to become the center of high-end wine auctions, second only to London and New York. That is partly because of the Hong Kong government's decision to abolish tax on wine, and partly to ensure that the would-be buyers - mainland tycoons with an unslakeable thirst for Bordeaux wines - can attend an auction without taking a long-haul flight.

At a recent Sotheby's sale, the total amount realized hit HK$20 million (1.8 million euros), with one lot of Dom Prignon Ros Oenothque champagne selling for HK$1.3 million, a world record. Wine market watchers predict that the price of Bordeaux wines, already inflated significantly by the mainland demand for Lafite and other fine vintages, will continue rising at giddy rates.

"The wine business is exploding," Wong says. "The business has been affected by the entry of mainland clients who are very sophisticated. They buy top wines. They came in on Bordeaux and now focus on Burgundy. There are also the wine trade purchases, people buying it for stock, knowing the wines have been checked bottle by bottle. We have 100 percent sold track record; we have had nine sales and every single bottle has been sold."

Wong is a wine expert with an extensive personal collection, but also has vast knowledge of the other areas of Sotheby's business; since joining the auction house, after completing studies at the London School of Economics, she has worked in various departments.

Wong's first brush with the auction business came as a young intern. Working at a law firm in Hong Kong, she was sent to attend one of the regular land sales held in the city. Property tycoons bid billions of dollars for prime plots.

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