One of the world's rarest string instruments is on course to setting a new world record when it goes on sale at auction in Hong Kong next month, with bids expected to reach HK$351 million.
The Macdonald viola, made in 1719 by the legendary Italian craftsman Antonio Stradivari, will be put up for auction in the city in a sealed-bid process conducted by Sotheby's and musical instrument specialists Ingles & Hayday.
The current record price for a musical instrument at auction was set by the Lady Blunt Stradivarius violin of 1721, which was auctioned by the Nippon Music Foundation in June 2011 for US$15.9 million.
Hongkongers will be in for a pre-sale treat as the 300-year-old viola will be exhibited from April 4 at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai.
Only two Stradivari violas remain in private hands, the Macdonald being one of them. The other is held in the United States' Library of Congress in Washington.
The Macdonald has a colourful history, passing through the hands of many titled owners.
Its name is derived from Godfrey Bosville, the 3rd Baron Macdonald, who owned the instrument in the 1820s.
The viola sports an alpine spruce belly, while its back is crafted from a single piece of maple.
The "immaculately preserved" instrument is coated in Stradivari's signature varnish.
"The finest of all Stradivari violas is generally agreed to be the Macdonald of 1719," Ingles & Hayday director Tim Ingles said.
"No Stradivari viola has been on the market for the last 50 years so this is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Stradivari, one of the most prolific instrument-makers in history, built more than 600 violins and 50 cellos over his career.
"The instruments of Stradivari are in a class of their own among the pinnacles of human craftsmanship," Sotheby's vice-chairman David Redden said.
His reputation for perfection was established in the 19th century through the work of legendary virtuosos, including Italian violinist-composer Niccolo Paganini. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma is known to use a Davidov Stradivarius in some of his performances.