HONGKONG is both the crossroads of the world's art market and the centre of the Chinese art world - enjoying a reputation as the place where only the best sells. The territory thrives as a top of the range trading centre, dealing in art so valuable that prices have been unaffected by the recession which slowed down the antique market and depressed prices in New York and London. ''At the top of the market there has never been a lull,'' said Ms Mee-seen Loong, managing director of Sotheby's Hongkong and vice-president of Sotheby's New York. ''It slowed in the middle ranges when pieces normally bought up by dealers as stock were left unsold. ''It's a [great] market for brilliant pieces, but it has to be the very best. '' Hongkong is the best market for Chinese imperial ware. Sotheby's has achieved the top 10 sales in the world in this category, eight of which were made in the territory. Ms Loong said imperial ware was a good bet for Hongkong speculators who liked to gamble in the art world because its attraction never faded. ''Chinese art is a constant because so much expertise and knowledge went into it before it was even purchased,'' she said. She has a surprise lined up for art lovers attending the Sotheby's April auction: an 18th century copy of a 15th century chicken cup, bearing the mark of an emperor, will come under the hammer. ''This is the year of the chicken and Chinese people are very superstitious,'' she said. ''The cups, which were traditionally for imperial use, and are decorated with chickens, are very auspicious.'' She said superstition was important to Chinese collectors, and that buyers did not like anything that had been excavated. Such items were sent to New York or London for sale. Jadeite jewellery, considered by Chinese people to bring longevity and general good fortune, is also a popular buy in the Hongkong market. ''Many local collectors have very international tastes; they like Western paintings, clocks and watches, and love classic jewellery, furniture - even vintage wine. They are sophisticated,'' said Ms Loong. Western collectors were also very involved in the market, she said. ''Once they get to Hongkong, it is inconceivable that they could let Chinese art pass them by.'' She said there was great momentum on the mainland as more people became successful and started collecting art. ''We are anxious to know what the structure of the art market is going to be like, post-1997. ''The success of the art market in Hongkong relies very heavily on the free flow of works of art, with the exception of works made from endangered species, like ivory or rhino. ''Nothing has been established as to how that might be affected.''