Collecting antique Chinese ceramics Featured

Buying tips and great insights into collecting dynasty Chinese pieces

by 13 May 2011

Collecting art is a genuine pleasure, when you take time to research, learn and appreciate the items that you are considering. Different art forms appeal to different people. While the luscious colours of Impressionist masters and the provocative depictions of contemporary themes appeal to certain buyers, tangible objects such as ceramics remain the most accessible art form to many collectors.

Accessibility and appreciation are two key words when you collect. They are very important things to think about especially if you want to purchase artworks for investment purposes. This adds value as you know that they will likely have a turnover in the future. Browsing, studying and purchasing new items during your travels is a great way to add to your collection while deepening your knowledge of what is available in different parts of the world.

Christie’s is celebrating its 25th anniversary in Hong Kong. There isn’t a better time or place for collectors as the international art auction leader launches its 2011 Hong Kong Spring Sales with a wide range of rare and exceptional collectible treasures. Focusing on Chinese ceramics, we took the opportunity to ask Senior Specialist Chi Fan Tsang from the Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art Department at Christie’s Hong Kong for some tips and insights on collecting ceramics.

How to get started
For collectors new to the category, the easiest area to begin with is ceramics because so much research has been done in this area and so many examples have sold at auction that can serve as references. To get some basic knowledge, get a good reference book from an art bookstore. Reading footnotes in past catalogue auctions is helpful too.

Go to auction viewings and handle some pieces as this is the best way to learn. The weight and feel of an object is very important in judging its authenticity. Ask specialists for their opinion and guidance on the bidding levels.

How much to invest
The most important tip from Ms. Tsang is to focus on something that you truly love. Buy only the best that you can afford. When collecting, it is much wiser to purchase one important item rather than spreading your money on a number of lesser pieces. It is far more likely to retain its value in the long run. This is why you have to make sure you are buying something you really like.

In what condition is the item?
Get a condition report from the auction house before buying anything and, if possible, seek the advice of an independent expert or restorer. A barely visible hairline crack on a dish can affect its value by as much as 70%. However, if you are just looking to buy a study piece, then you can get an item with very minor damage at a fraction of the price.

How rare is it?
Was it something made uniquely for the Emperor, or was it produced in large quantities for the Chinese court and noblemen? Rarity is an important factor that determines the value of a piece. This is why you have to do research and read all the notes in the catalogue to find out.

Where does it come from?
There are more and more sophisticated copies on the market. To avoid the disappointment of purchasing a fake, you should look for pieces that have a clear history, tracing back as far as possible, to the time when it was first acquired. Items that have been in part of an important collection or institution are highly desirable.

Determining quality
Details, details, details. You should look for outstanding quality. Serious collectors invest a lot of time in learning about the workmanship that goes into a beautiful piece. It is a wonderful learning process that can greatly increase your appreciation and understanding of how valuable the item can become.

Ms. Tsang points out that ceramics, particularly Imperial Qing dynasty ceramics, remain the most accessible art form today and therefore continue to attract the highest prices. While collecting categories such as jade, lacquer, Imperial clocks, rhinoceros horn carvings, glass and bamboo are getting more popular and are achieving unprecedented prices, why not begin with Chinese ceramics? You will never look at a vase the same way again.

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