Rare works are a golden opportunity for buyers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 April, 2008, 12:00am

Sotheby's will offer buyers an unprecedented opportunity to purchase some of the rarest imperial gold works from the Ming and Qing dynasties at this year's Chinese ceramics and works of art sale. Gold vessels are considered the costliest and most unusual of all imperial works of art of the Ming and Qing eras because the pieces are very limited.

'Antique dealers have in recent years sold some very small gold pieces like hairpins, but there are very few solid imperial gold works, like vessels, on the market,' explained Edie Hu, a specialist at Sotheby's Chinese ceramics department. 'Gold was quite rare back then. You didn't get that much of it and things tended to be in gilded bronze rather than gold.'

With recent gold prices trading at an all-time high, these invaluable gold pieces were expected to command even greater attention, Ms Hu said, adding that new buyers were likely to emerge due to interest in the commodity.

'The gold metal works will likely appeal to a lot of mainland collectors who are attracted to gold's association with wealth while western buyers will be interested in the historical background of these items,' she said.

One of the most unusual and sought after pieces is an embellished gold tripod vessel and cover from the Ming dynasty. It is one of only eight early Ming dynasty gold vessels to have been preserved outside China. The other seven were all in museums, Ms Hu said.

Expected to fetch more than HK$60 million, the vessel is engraved with five-clawed dragons, a widely recognised symbol of imperial power, and encrusted with a plethora of rubies, sapphires, pearls and other gems.

'It is mind-boggling how these works were made. The fine workmanship just can't be replicated today,' Ms Hu said. 'Workmanship and condition are what buyers should keep in mind when buying gold pieces in general.'

Another gold piece worth taking note of is the 18th century gold ewer and cover. Richly decorated in high relief with peony scrolls and filigree work embellished with pearls, turquoise, sapphires and rubies, it bears the imperial mark of Emperor Qianlong.

'Imperial gold pieces are so rare that it really has an impact on the price,' Ms Hu said. 'Buyers could pay 10 times as much for gold items bearing the imperial mark.'

As for smaller items, there are two exquisite solid gold covered boxes available, most likely made for the use of consorts or court ladies in the Qing dynasty.