Swatch Watches Fetch Millions at Sotheby’s Hong Kong as Billionaire Liu Yiqian Buys Song-Dynasty Vase

Keith Haring Swatch.

Ancient Chinese artifacts shared the limelight with 20th-century design at Sotheby’s Hong Kong on Tuesday: a collection of over 5,800 Swatch watches fetched an astonishing $6 million, while a Song Dynasty vase commanded a price of $14.7 million.

The Swatch seller, Luxembourg’s Paul Dunkel, has been collecting the multi-colored Swiss watches, first introduced in 1983, for 25 years.

“It began with a few watches, then it was a passion,” Dunkel told AFP.

Though the plastic Swatch is known for being affordable, the collectible market gets a boost from limited edition versions, such as Dunkel’s Kiki Picasso (of which only 140 were made) or Keith Haring watches, or his rare 40th anniversary James Bond timepiece.

Of course, even in bulk, Swatches can’t hope to compete with the prices commanded by a true luxury timepiece: see Sheikh Al-Thani’s Watch Sells for $24 Million After His Mysterious Death.

“Each watch in this collection translates into a chapter of contemporary art,” Sharon Chan added, Sotheby’s head of watches, told AFP.

Three bidders engaged in an extended battle, placing no fewer than 30 bids, with a European institution walking away with the lot. The watches had been valued at a comparatively paltry $1.3 million.

Despite his love of the Swatch, the 68-year-old is moving on and focusing his attention on his grandchildren. “For me, it’s not possible to continue [collecting],” he said. “It’s so much work.”

Guan Vase, Southern Song dynasty-era (1127–1279). Photo: courtesy Sotheby's.

Guan Vase, Southern Song dynasty-era (1127–1279).
Photo: courtesy Sotheby’s.

Tuesday’s sales, which marked the end of Hong Kong’s four-day spring auction season, also saw Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian lay out $14.7 million for a blue-green ceramic vase from the Song era (1127–1279). After 40 years in a private collection, the Guan Vase will join the holdings of Liu’s Long Museum in Shanghai.

Forbes reports that Liu recently spent $19 million on Chinese artifacts during Asia Week New York (see The Go-To Guide for 2015 Asia Week New York).

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