Qianlong period Imperial white jade teapot
A Qianlong period Imperial white jade teapot and cover, offered at Sotheby’s ‘In Confidence: Selected Masterpieces’ sale.

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Billed as “a silent auction combining the discretion of a private sale with the dynamism of an auction”, the initiative is aimed at appealing to Asian art buyers in particular. The first sale using this format opened today and Sotheby’s described it as “a tailor-made solution to meet collectors’ needs in this rapidly evolving market”.

The new approach involves bids being placed exclusively by written submissions (often referred to in the market as ‘absentee bids’).

Bidders will be notified if they have been outbid and will have a final chance to submit a best and final offer by the pre-set deadline, at which point the winning bidder will be established.

The winning bidder will pay a sum equivalent to one increment above the next highest bid (or the reserve if there are no other bids). A buyer’s premium will be added to the final price.

Crucially, no prices will actually be published with all the bidding information and level of interest in each item remaining confidential.

To give confidence to potential participants, Sotheby’s says the bidding process will be monitored by an independent auditor.

Teapot reappears

The first sale under this novel process is a 13-lot offering being run out of Hong Kong titled ‘In Confidence: Selected Masterpieces’. It will feature Chinese works of art and paintings, Modern and Contemporary art, jewellery and whisky.

Together the lots are estimated in excess of HK$350m (£36.9m) with individual items valued from HK$5m-70m. 

Among the lots is a Qianlong period Imperial white jade teapot and cover with provenance to the Scottish aristocrat Hinton Daniell Stewart, the 6th Laird of Strathgarry. It previously sold at £1.75m at Woolley & Wallis in May 2011.

Sotheby’s said it was “arguably the most flawless of any jade teapot or ewer in private hands”.

Other works on offer include a céladon carved 'dragon' meiping, also dating from the Qianlong period, and a Burmese jadeite bead necklace. Among the more modern items is a triptych from 1980 by Zao Wou-Ki and a splashed-ink-and-colour landscape on gold paper by Zhang Daqian (1899-1983). A cask of 1973 vintage whisky is also offered directly from the Dalmore distillery.

Chairman of Sotheby’s Asia Nicolas Chow said: “The art world has changed dramatically over the last few months. As collectors continue to look for opportunities to buy and sell great art, Sotheby’s has swiftly adapted and evolved the ways in which we serve our clients. The brand-new sale format brings together the discretion of a private sale and excitement of an auction in the most effective way, meeting the needs of top-level sellers and buyers under the current climate.”

How to bid at the ‘In Confidence’ sale

May 15: E-catalogue goes live online.

May 15-23: The sale is open for absentee bidding. Bidders who place bids between May 15-22 will be notified if they have been outbid and will have a final chance to submit a best and final offer by the pre-set deadline. Bidders who place bids during the final 24 hours of the auction will not be notified if they have been outbid.

May 23 (6pm Hong Kong Time): Auction closes. At this time the highest bid on each lot will be established and the winning bidder will be invoiced at one increment above the next highest bid or the reserve if there are no other bids. A buyer’s premium will be added to the final price.