Demand forces antique prices up

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 January, 2011, 12:00am

The chance to buy affordable Chinese antique furniture is diminishing as supplies dry up on the mainland.

Increasing demand among wealthy mainlanders is pushing prices up and reducing the number of items available.

Oriental Home owner Mary Lau says the shortage is because of the stronger mainland economy. 'Now it's a fashion or trend, and you have not just the older age-group of 50- to 60-year-olds buying antiques, as was the norm 20 years ago. They are also popular with 20- to 30-year-olds,' she says. 'Even if they are living in a 500 sqft place they want one standout piece, and that goes for local Hongkongers too.'

Another factor is the internet, which mainland villagers use to research their antiques. In the early days, there were stories of antique hunters giving gullible villagers plastic outdoor furniture in exchange for a valuable antique. 'They will look on the internet now and realise, 'oh, our cabinet is worth HK$10,000 on the market', so they will not sell if it for anything less than, say, HK$5,000.'

Lau says this has put pressure on the industry. In Horizon Plaza, where her store is located, Lau says two years ago there were half a dozen shops selling antiques and now there are only half that amount. She has expanded her search across the mainland to Fujian, Zhejiang, Shandong, Shanxi and Hebei.

She has also addressed the problem by supplying Tibetan and Mongolian furniture and venturing into reproduction pieces. Sourcing Tibetan furniture is easy for Lau as one of her family members is Tibetan.

While reproductions are less popular than antiques, she says costs are also increasing because of a shortage of labour and the price of wood. 'Thirty to 40 years ago, parents didn't want their children to become carpenters because the job was considered too difficult and the working environment not so good. So now it is becoming more difficult to get good labour.'

Tibetan pieces are popular because they meet the trend for painted furniture. Another increasingly sought-after style is Mongolian furniture, which Lau describes as a mixture between Chinese and Tibetan styles. 'While the Tibetan pieces are painted, they are not usually practical and come with small drawers,' she explains. 'But Mongolian furniture marries the practicality of Chinese pieces, while incorporating the paintings.'

While 80 per cent of Lau's clients are expatriates, about 20 per cent are local customers. She says as long as a piece has been restored to a high standard, there will be no need for waxing. 'Just use a damp cloth and clean the dust off,' she advises.