Under the hammer – Fab Four Auction Sales (June 2024)

By Neil Dolby
Jun 19, 2024

Four amazing lots that wowed bidders at recent auctions include a beautiful 5.02-carat fancy pink diamond, a Kusama pumpkin, a Song era ceramic dish and a Magritte masterpiece.

Ring of Rose: Flawless diamond fortunate for one

A simply marvellous 55.55-carat oval diamond, named Fortune Five, was the star of the show at Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels sale, going for HK$45.2 million (US$5.8 million). Coming in as the top-seller at the Hong Kong auction, the final price attained for the unmounted D-flawless type IIa diamond fell within the pre-auction estimate of US$4.9 million to US$6.4 million.

A product of nature transformed into a beautiful jewel through ingenious human craftsmanship, this brilliant-cut stone undoubtedly captivated the enthralled bidders. It hails from a mine in Lesotho in southern Africa, one of the largest sources of highly coveted type IIa diamonds, where extreme heat and pressure deep within the earth’s mantle represent the perfect conditions for carbon atoms to crystallise into precious gemstones. The IIa ranking certifies that it is the most chemically pure of diamonds.

Reaching the colour grading of D, the highest possible, signifies that the stone is completely colourless. Furthermore, the gem contains no visible inclusions or blemishes as it is shown to be flawless when examined under intense magnification. Another alluring feature of the diamond is its wondrous interaction with light.

Spyder Sense: Last Ferrari roars off block

A fabulous Ferrari raced to an astonishing final bid price of US$17.87 million (HK$139.9 million) at Kissimmee 2024, making it the most expensive car sold at the prestigious Mecum auction in Florida by a country mile. The beauty and refined elegance of this 1963 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spyder wowed bidders, who were also swayed by the knowledge that this was the last such model to be built by the famous Italian marque.

The speed machine stemmed from Ferrari’s desire to produce a sportier open-top model that would offer greater performance. First, in 1957, they remodelled the 250 GT California Spyder into the long-wheelbase (LWB) version, boasting a lightweight chassis shod with a simple but elegant body and retractable top. Three years later, the short-wheelbase (SWB) model was born, employing minor changes for enhanced drivability and appearance, and 55 cars were produced from 1960-1963.

The final one of the series, in beautiful Rosso Cina (China Red) with covered headlights, was completed on 9 February 1963 and imported into the US the following month. Its known ownership history since new further added to its desirability.

Bye Bye Birdie: Sorrowful painting brings collecting joy

A beautiful painting by Jean-Baptiste Greuze of a girl mourning the loss of her bird created a stir at a recent Christie’s auction in New York, setting a new world record for works by the revered French artist. Fetching US$2.47 million (HK$19.3 million), it was the top lot at the ‘A Park Avenue Collection’ sale, whose proceeds amounted to a whopping US$8.89 million.

Une jeune fille qui pleure la mort de son oiseau (A girl weeping over her dead bird) was the first in a series of three similar sentimental paintings by Greuze on the theme of loss stemming from the death of a beloved pet bird. It was completed in 1757 and exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1759. Some art critics believe these works were inspired by an ancient verse of first-century BCE Roman poet Catullus, which details a girl’s grief on the passing of her sparrow.

The single-owner sale featured a number of Old Master paintings, as well as 18th-century furniture and Chinese works of art. Christie’s Specialist Joshua Glazer said: “The superb group of French 18th-century paintings in the collection were universally admired, and we were thrilled to have set a new world auction record for the magnificent Greuze Girl weeping over her dead bird.”

Bottle a Hit: Glazed vase triggers bidding war 

An extremely rare guan-glazed octagonal bottle vase attracted frenzied action at a recent auction held by Sotheby’s in Hong Kong, with the hammer falling at HK$20.4 million (US$2.6 million) – nearly two times its high estimate. This sought-after prize was secured after a predominately four-way bidding war that lasted fully eight minutes.

The vase was the most valuable lot from a white glove sale of an important European collection of Chinese ceramics acquired from the renowned dealer and collector Edward T. Chow. With all items sold and 90% of them achieving prices above their high estimates, a grand total of HK$71 million was raised.

Standing at 22 centimetres high, this vase is thought to herald from the Song dynasty or later, and it passed to its new owner in excellent condition for its age, albeit with an insignificant microscopic glaze bruise on the lower body. Noted for its beautiful aesthetics and elegant form, this type of vase was made exclusively for the imperial court where it would delight the senses. The one that aroused such interest typifies the delicate interplay between lines and curves and is embossed with many layers of opaque jade-celadon glaze.