Newcomer seeks a niche in crowded Hong Kong auction market

Dragon 8’s founder says it will sell never-before-seen items, and wine and dine auction-goers, while charging industry-low commission on sales

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 November, 2015, 1:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 November, 2015, 1:03pm

Works by artists including Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, sought-after jewels and rare whisky and wine will go under the hammer at the first auction held by Hong Kong auctioneers Dragon 8 on November 20 and 21 at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Wan Chai. We had an email exchange with Dragon 8’s founder, Gil Lempert-Schwarz, ahead of the debut sale.

Dragon 8 Auctions. What is it all about?

It is all about doing very high-end auctions with some never-before-seen items, but more cutting edge in presentation and social media. Dragon 8 is for serious collectors of diamonds, fine art, rare wine and whisky. We’ll also be a bit irreverent, such as by starting bidding for our Chateau Latour 2000 lot at HK$10 with no reserve.

There are international and local auction houses holding sales all the time in Hong Kong. What sets you apart?

Dragon 8 combines all these categories into smaller and much more palatable sales where serious collectors can come and bid while eating amazing food and drinking legendary wines, which sets us apart from houses like Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Poly to name but a few.

Some would say the auction market is saturated. What’s your take?

There are indeed a lot of auctions taking place in the world and especially in Hong Kong. Generally, they do well if they bring top-class items and refrain from being repetitive; there are a lot of buyers in Hong Kong, especially mainland Chinese who buy through Hong Kong auctions, and there doesn’t seem to be an end to the voracity of these buyers; but they have become more discerning and thereby demanding over the past few years, so enter Dragon 8 and we deal in the crème de la crème, with industry-low commissions.

Isn’t it risky with what’s seen to be a declining China market?

If the China market is declining it would surprise me; they just had the largest ever shopping day, with more than US$12 billion sold in 10 hours of Singles Day via Alibaba last week, or why Mr Liu from Beijing spent US$170 million for a Modigliani or why Joseph Lau paid almost HK$600 million for two diamonds recently. All indications are that while the stock market is jittery, there’s tonnes of money moving into non-correlative asset classes, which is traditionally things like fine and rare wine, fine art and diamonds, all things we deal in.

You also have two catalogues: one for diamonds and art, another for whisky and wine. That’s quite rare isn’t it? Talk about this a bit.

We have decided to split these two categories, because we believe they each deserve their own place in the limelight. Diamond and fine art buyers I would put in one category and wine and whisky in another, but there are certainly quite a few crossovers, so presenting them in a classic evening sale for the most prestigious and expensive things like the diamonds and art makes sense. Wine and whisky is better sold during the day when people can sit and enjoy a nice glass of something superb while bidding and eating a lovely lunch; it all works very well like this.

What are your favourite lots of this group?

For the art, my favourites are the Warhol, the Picasso and the Leger in that order, simply for their iconic nature and subject matter. For the diamonds, the large 20+ carat emerald cut is a superb stone and the little intense blue one is just special, so those are my favourites there. For Wine, the rare DRC [Domaine de la Romanee-Conti] assortments from ’93 and ’96, as well as the very rare full case of Petrus ’71 and naturally the 120 bottles of Latour. In the whisky section, without a question it has to be the ultra rare cask of Glenfiddich 1964 – 51-year-old Scotch whisky which is simply one of those things that money normally can’t buy.

How do you source everything?

Everything we have from the fine art through the diamonds to the wine and whisky has been meticulously sourced from private collectors mainly in Europe. These are major collectors, who do not normally like dealing with the bigger auction houses, because of the fees associated with that, as well as the less personal service they get.

How open are you to seeing local collections if they are presented to you?

We are naturally very open to discussing local collections going forward. As we are a 100 per cent Hong Kong company, we cherish our roots in this amazing city and if local collectors come to us with their collections and want us to help them make these collections available to like-minded discerning “colleagues” of theirs, we are all for it and support it 100 per cent.

What has the response been so far to your lots?

The response has been overwhelming – I think we’re in for a big positive surprise this weekend. I’m also confident our clients, who are mainly Hong Kong people, can see the value in us bringing these rarities back to Hong Kong for sale, rather than them having to spend the time and expense on going through the bigger international houses in New York and London. Quite similar in many ways to what happened with things like Art Basel. It was never thought to be able to have any “legs” here, but with time, effort and persistence now it is one of the biggest things on the global art calendar.

What’s crucial to know for people who would like to attend?

The time and the place and the fact that while we welcome one and all, they do have to go through our pre-registration process; we want to make sure that it is fair to everyone in attendance and we want the competition for the lots to be on equal footing.

If you could get your hands on one lot that you don’t have…what is it?

It would have to be an iconic piece of art by Pablo Picasso, simply because he was the greatest artist the world has known and his pieces invoke so much discussion. It would be nice to stick the Mona Lisa in an auction, just to see if it broke a billion dollars US, but of course that is but a dream.

Dragon 8 holds its first auction on Friday 20 November and Saturday 21 November at the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong. Go to the website for full catalogue and registration.