Asian Collectors Flex Muscles At Elizabeth Taylor Auction Series In New York

Four-Day Series Wraps With Fine and Decorative Art & Film Memorabilia 100 Percent Sold

A private Asian bidder took home Andy Warhol's 1964 lithograph "Liz" for US$662,500 (Image: Christie's)

A private Asian bidder took home Andy Warhol’s 1964 lithograph “Liz” for US$662,500 (Image: Christie’s)

This past Friday marked the conclusion of one of the most widely anticipated auction series of the season, “The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor” at Christie’s in New York. Wrapping up with the Fine and Decorative Art & Film Memorabilia sale, which pulled in a total of US$4.41 million and was 100 percent sold, the auction series proved incredibly popular with collectors from around the world, concluding with a grand total of US$156.8 million. While sales of Taylor’s paintings, memorabilia and works of art attracted strong bidding, it was the jewelry auctions on December 13 and 14 that brought in the most jaw-dropping numbers. In total, that sale of 270 lots made US$137.2 million, setting four world records in the process.

With final auction totals due to be released today, the auction was clearly a success for Christie’s New York. Interestingly enough, the sale was particularly popular with not only the US and European buyers who one would expect to see bidding on the collection of a Hollywood icon, but also the emerging Asian collectors who have become mainstays at auctions in London, Paris, Hong Kong and elsewhere. Though most buyers at the auction series preferred to remain anonymous, private Asian buyers were some of the most well-represented buyers at the four-day event, coming out in force and purchasing some of the most expensive lots in each category. Asian bidding was also instrumental in driving prices far beyond pre-sale estimates. Pushed up by intense bidding, Andy Warhol’s 1964 lithograph “Liz” — estimated at only US$30,000-50,000, sold to an Asian private buyer for more than $660,000, and at the same auction a Versace Beaded Evening Bolero Jacket, expected to go for $15,000-20,000, sold to another Asian buyer for $128,500, more than six times its high estimate. Perhaps most dramatically, a set of Alzer suitcases and a Boite Pharmacie with a pre-sale estimate of only $3,000-5,000, went to an Asian bidder for a whopping $110,500, more than 22 times its high estimate.

Although the high multiples seen across the auction series had something to do with the unexpectedly low pre-sale estimates, Asian buyers showed their streak of disregarding estimates altogether for particular items, flexing their muscles across the board and giving stiff resistance to institutional and private collectors from North America and Europe. Though the most expensive lot of the series, the Taylor’s jewel-drenched La Peregrina necklace — which sold for $11.8 million — went to an anonymous buyer, the second-highest lot, the 33.19 carat Elizabeth Taylor Diamond, sold to an Asian private buyer for $8.82 million, more than double its high estimate of $3.5 million. This set a new world auction record, per carat, for a colorless diamond, with a final cost of $265,697 per carat.

This Chinese scholar's rock sold for $386,500, far beyond its $12,000 high estimate (Image: Christie's)

This Chinese scholar’s rock sold for $386,500, far beyond its $12,000 high estimate (Image: Christie’s)

Taylor’s more Asian-flavored items unsurprisingly proved popular with emerging collectors in the final day of the auction series, with Asian buyers taking home six of the top 10 highest priced lots at the memorabilia sale on the 16th. Again, final prices went far beyond high estimates, with the top lot, a large grey scholar’s rock going for $386,500, more than 32 times its high estimate of $12,000.

Throughout the memorabilia auction, Asian collectors homed in on scholar’s rocks and jade — two segments dominated by Chinese buyers — but also took home lots like a signed portrait of Michael Jackson ($146,500, over high estimate of $3,000) and a red leather director’s chair ($134,500, over high estimate of $3,000). Perhaps more than at any other high-profile Western auction series in recent memory, the presence of Asian buyers — particularly new Chinese collectors — was highly significant at this auction series, with these bidders more than holding their own even against American institutional buyers.

Though Christie’s does not disclose the nationality of their buyers beyond “Asian,” this is an important shift in the market, one to which Chinese buyers have contributed, if not led outright. Though Chinese collectors remain mostly fixated upon Chinese art and artifacts, we will likely see this buyer segment broaden its focus for very high profile auction series overseas in the years ahead, taking on established Western collectors as they have at auctions in Hong Kong. With demand for alternative investments in China only increasing by the day as investors remain skittish about inflation, the appreciating yuan and the country’s stock market, the speed with which Chinese collectors turn their attention to major jewelry, memorabilia and art auctions abroad may only increase.

As Jon Reade of the Art Futures Group, a Hong Kong-based art investment firm, told the Guardian of the drivers behind Asia’s new generation of globetrotting auction buyers, uncertainty is fueling nearly unlimited demand among Asia’s wealthy. “It’s not the old days of ‘safe as houses’, put your money in the bank and that will sort you out,” Reade said. “Those are the days probably of my parents’ generation…people are getting more creative with their money.”

 

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