$30 million white diamond headlines Hong Kong auction

A recent Asian contemporary and modern art auction in Hong Kong featured several big ticket items, including a "flawless" white diamond that sold for more than $30 million.

Along with the 118-carat, oval-shaped gem, there were more than 50 works being offered from renowned modern artists, including "The Last Supper," by Chinese painter Zeng Fanzhi, which was based on the iconic Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece and done in a style reminiscent of the 20th century Irish-born, British figurative artist Francis Bacon.

Provenance of the white diamond
So-called "blood diamonds" – gems that have been mined in war-torn regions of Africa, often by people working in slave-like conditions, and that are used to finance conflicts – are always a concern in the diamond trading and auction worlds. So in order to ensure the provenance of the white diamond that was sold in Hong Kong, the auction house subjected the gem to the Kimberley Process.

The Kimberley Process is a joint initiative involving government, industry and civil society that was established in 2003. It seeks to guarantee that diamonds on the market are not financing violence or helping to foment revolution against legitimate governments.

The $30 million ($27.1 million actual price, with a $3.5 million commission) D-color flawless type IIA white diamond was mined in South Africa in 2011, and was sold after six intense minutes of phone bidding during the jewelry auction portion of the night.

Asian artists emerging
The da Vinci-inspired painting, which is about 13 feet long, depicts Christ and his 12 disciples wearing masks and communist Young Pioneers uniforms as they are seated at a long table in the same layout that is seen in the famous Renaissance painting.

Several other works by Asian artists were able to garner sums in the millions of dollars, including a triptych by Zao Wou-ki, "Market," a 1950s abstract work by Singapore-based Chen Wen Hsi, a painting by the Filipino artist Juan Luna, Indonesian artist Rudi Mantofani's painting "Red Shadow"  and a painting by the Chinese female artist Pan Yuliang.

Auction for the ultra-rich
The 330 items sold at the jewelry auction (out of the more than 3,500 total lots) fetched a total sales price of $95 million, according to The Washington Post, highlighting Hong Kong's emerging role as one of the auction capitals of the world, along with New York and Geneva. Catering to the wealthiest people in Southeast Asia, the Hong Kong auction also provided an opportunity to raise the profile of some of the modern artists whose works were on display.

"They want their artists to be mentioned in the same breath as Zeng Fanzhi or Zhang Xiaogong or Hirst or Richter as a symbol of how strong they are on the global stage," Hong Kong-based dealer James Hennessy said of demand from the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore in an interview with Bloomberg News.

The auction served as yet another reminder of how the economies in several Southeast Asian countries have risen to levels that are on par with many Western nations.

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