Sunday, May 1, 2011


Below is the world's most expensive vase to be auctioned by Christie's on 1 June 2011 at HongKong Convention Centre
Would you, rich as you are, pay RM 100 million for this vase? Yes, ONE HUNDRED MILLION RINGGIT!

Just in case you think I typed two extra zeros by mistake, it is not RM 1 million which I think is already excessive as you can buy 3 condos in Malaysia for that amount but RM 100 million.

Yes, this is a VERY nice vase but the only difference between this and the one you have on your shelf is that this one can revolve. Yup, you can spin the outside wall or main body and it revolves smoothly, allowing you to view the painted interiors of auspicious symbols. Then again, all Chinese artefacts are loaded with auspicious, lucky and prosperous symbols. I have NEVER come across a vase or any item for that matter that is painted with symbols denoting death, decay,degradation, destruction, doom or devilishly devious degeneration!

The vase is like an ancient mini-cinema of sorts as the painted interiors show scenes of longevity and boundless happiness. I think this applies more to the seller who will be very happy after you hand over RM 100 million to him or her. The amount should be enough to ensure the seller live a long life as he or she can enjoy the best medical facilities and can even pay a doctor and nurse to live in the same house like the maids.

It is in perfect condition which adds to the premium and was once owned by Emperor Qianlong (1736-1795) which makes it even more glamorous! Bet you would not pay so much if it was proven it was owned and used by an eunuch! Emperor Qian Long was known for his penchant for technical artistry and his porcelain makers must have toiled endlessly to produce this astoundingly perfect example! Many European companies also produced clocks and automatons for his private pleasure.

Hundreds, maybe thousands, must have been made but were damaged during the firing or during processes of production. In those days, such revolving vases were rare to the extreme. Today, no one knows how to create such vases and needless to say, only a few have survived. Or else they are scratched, nicked or damaged. To have a pristine example as this one is considered miraculous. Of course if you have a RM 100 million cash to spare, it can be considered miraculous too as obviously Christie's expects full, instant payment and not, heaven forbid, by instalments.

I reckon you must have at least RM 1 billion in liquid assets to be able to devote 10% of your fortune on just one item, leaving you with RM 900 million. Unlike a car or mansion or even a magnificent audio visual system, this vase is strictly for decoration as you would not use it to display flowers as cleaning the vase of browny, dirty stains is risky and your maid might break it! So you will have to display it behind locked glass showcase and admire your acquisition visually as it does not generate any income. Plus you may have to insure it against theft or breakage.

Yes, you can buy a decent listed company in the Second or even Main Board of Bursa Malaysia for this sum. If you have RM 100 million to invest, any chairman or tycoon will make time to meet and sweet talk you into a JV.

Of course some may prefer transforming RM 100 million into a magnificent Qianlong revolving vase symbolising 'Continuous Joy and Boundless Longevity'. This is only the estimated price so it can actually be lower or higher. We will have to wait till 1 June to find out.

The auction of this vase will be held at Saleroom 1, Convention Hall, Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre, Hong Kong.

Preserved in perfect condition, the rotating vase has reticulated outer walls and
painted interiors, with a complex form and structure that exemplifies the technical brilliance of the craftsmen at the Imperial kilns of the period.

The vase, intricately decorated inside with symbols of happiness, longevity, prosperity and joy, is a tour de force of artistic and technical achievement, skilfully combining archaism, novelty and exquisite taste.

Only a few reticulated revolving vases were successfully produced in China at the time so it is not surprising even fewer surviving specimens are found today. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire such a work of spectacular beauty and ingenuity so don't sit on your ass, pencil in 1 June Hong Kong, ask your minions to book the presidential suite at The Peninsula, Intercontinental or Mandarin Oriental and check your platinum card is not maxed out.

Although Imperial porcelains from this reign are universally admired for their exquisite
craftsmanship, an astonishing technical mastery of ceramics production was
needed to make this reticulated revolving vase, constructed so the neck and inner cylinder are one piece, while the reticulated outer walls, base and foot form the exterior on which it revolves. A porcelain cone placed in the centre between the bases of the outer and inner
sections provides the pivot so the inner part is able to rotate.

Production must have been painstakingly difficult as no part of the vases could distort during firing and all sections must shrink the same amount during firing or else the entire piece would be rendered useless. Even more important, the revolving section MUST NOT become stuck to the rest of the vase during or after the assembly process. This was an extremely difficult feat to accomplish by itself and considered a tall order for a vase that was only fired once.

However, this vase was fired TWICE! This vase was decorated in enamels, which required an ADDITIONAL firing at a lower temperature! The vase had to undergo two rounds of risk and if the enamels cracked during the second round, all would be lost again.

Not content with making a vase that revolved, the masochistic ceramicists who produced this vase added an extra degree of difficulty by piercing the outer shell to create a reticulated, openwork pattern to allow the decoration of the inner wall to be seen. The design of the reticulated roundels in the outer shell had to be very carefully balanced to prevent distortion or worse, a total collapse of the outer wall during firing!

Elaborately decorated on the exterior, the elegant scrolls on the outer wall of the vase feature the China rose or hibiscus, which in Chinese is called' mufurong', providing a rebus for ‘wealth and glory’.

The revolving inner section is also beautifully painted in enamel with auspicious symbols.
Twelve magpies, (the word in Chinese being a homophone for joy) provide a rebus for shishi
baoxi or ‘happiness announced at all hours of the day’, since the Chinese day was traditionally
divided into twelve hours, each equivalent to two Western hours. Accompanying the magpies in
the decoration on the current vase are pine trees, rocks (both symbolising longevity), Buddha’s
hand citron (implying blessings or riches) and lingzhi fungus (also regarded as fungus of
immortality). The message of the decoration, conveyed on the inner revolving section, can thus
be summarized as ‘may you be blessed with continuous joy and boundless longevity’.

There, what more can you ask for?

Of course you may prefer to view the vase before buying which is reasonable so you can be sure it matches the colour of your wall. The vase will be previewed at the following locations prior to the sale:

21-22 May Taipei Fubon Life Assurance Building
26-29 May Hong Kong Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre

Christie’s, the world's leading art business had global auction and private sales in 2010 that totaled £3.3 billion/$5.0 billion.
Christie’s is a name and place that speaks of extraordinary art, unparalleled service and expertise, as well as international glamour.
Founded in 1766 by James Christie, Christie's conducted the greatest auctions of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, and today
remains a popular showcase for the unique and the beautiful. Christie’s offers over 450 sales annually in over 80 categories,
including all areas of fine and decorative arts, jewellery, photographs, collectibles, wine, and more. Prices range from US $200 to over US$ 100 million.