That's the view of one Asia specialist, who says while Western collectors always had a keen interest in Asian antiquities, collectors from the region, including Hong Kong and China, are increasingly looking to art and antiques as good investments.
Ann Roberts from Sotheby's Australia, says their auction in Melbourne on 29 October is expected to garner huge interest from collectors.
She says provenance, the place of origin or history of a piece, often determines its ultimate worth.
Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Ann Roberts, Asia specialist, Sotheby's Australia
ROBERTS: There's a lot of interest in Asian art from Chinese or Asian people, should I say who live in Australia and also from overseas, a lot of people come over to Melbourne for the sales. They obviously follow them online, I think now with communications on the websites, people are aware of sales wherever they're held really, so it's made a huge difference.
LAM: So where next week's sale is concerned, would you expect much interest from Asia or from all over the world or primarily Australia?
ROBERTS: Primarily, Asian collectors who live in Australia, but also we get a lot of interest. We have mainly Chinese pieces in the current sale and so we get a lot of interest from people from mainland China, collectors from mainland China, from Hong Kong, Taiwan and from the South East Asia, Singapore and we also do get online, interest from New York and London and other parts of the world.
Talking from the point of view of Sotheby's or of auction houses, the main areas that are centres for auctions of Asian art. The main one is Hong Kong, but also New York and London are very strong areas where sales of Asian arts are held. There are also sales in France, in Paris, and then obviously regional sales. But really Hong Kong is the major centre now for the sale of Asian art.
LAM: What about China and Chinese buyers from the mainland. I imagine the cashed-up Chinese from the People's Republic would look to art and antiquities not just for enjoyment, but also possible investment opportunities. Do you get a lot of interest from mainland China?
ROBERTS: Yes we do, and it certainly is a great area for investment. I think a lot of Chinese people now, the middle class is so much more wealthy and they've become very interested in their culture and their history and they're now in a position where they can collect works of art. They're very interested in collecting and they do see it as a form of, a very sort of safe form of investment.
Certainly, if you look over the last ten years, prices have risen quite dramatically. The Chinese population is becoming much more wealthy, they're taking much more interest in these pieces, so there's a huge demand and, of course, the supply doesn't increase that much. So prices are certainly escalating.
LAM: In recent weeks, we had reports of stolen Indian artefacts, finding their way into major Australian public galleries. What authenticating practices or indeed, is there a kind of industry wide code of practice where authentication is concerned?
ROBERTS: Well, there is. Certainly, steps are taken to try and authenticate. This is very true in the Asian markets for the Chinese or Japanese pieces. Provenance makes a huge difference, so if you know the history of a piece, maybe it's been in a particular collection for many years or it's been purchased from a very reputable dealer. In the past, this all helps to increase the value of that piece, rather than something that has absolutely no history to it.
LAM: But would the bit auction houses, like Sotheby's, like Christie's, would they sell for a client a piece that does not have the necessary papers?
ROBERTS: Well, I don't know that there are necessary papers. It certainly helps to have a clear provenance. As pieces become more expensive or more rare and desirable, provenance becomes more important. I think quite a lot of the problems, with particularly the Chinese pieces now is that very good copies are made and there are a lot of pieces purporting to be a genuine item from a previous period that actually has been made quite recently and made so well that it's actually very hard to tell whether it is a recent piece or a genuine article from a previous era.
LAM: Indeed, Sotheby's itself is involved in a legal tussle over a Cambodian sandstone statue and I don't want you to talk about the case. But are stolen artefacts, are they minefields that big houses like Sotheby's and Christie's have to navigate in the course of business?
ROBERTS: Oh, yes, I think there are, but there are protocols in place and it's actually not something that I come across in my normal work with Sotheby's here. But I'm sure internationally, this is something that they look at very carefully. Everything is done to try and make sure that a piece has not been looted in the past or had any problems like that, because obviously it will lead to trouble, so that's to be avoided wherever possible.
LAM: Well, let's end on a much more positive note. Can you tell us about one or two of the pieces that stand out for you in the upcoming show at Sotheby's?
ROBERTS: Well, we've got a variety of things in the current auction. We usually do have. We have ceramics, jades, a lot of works of art, so bronzes, carvings, ivory pieces.
LAM: So these are Chinese pieces?
ROBERTS: These are Chinese pieces, so they're very high quality. We've got a lovely Japanese vase, Satsuma vase,which is a very nice piece; an embroidered blue silk Dragon robe, so it's couched in gold with nine dragons and then it's embroidered with all sorts of auspicious emblems and bats and flowers and very beautifully done. And this would have been a robe that would have been worn at the court and, of course, at the time, the court was very hierarchical and certain colours denote maybe certain ceremonies and..
LAM: So this would be 19th. Century?
ROBERTS: It is 19th. Century, yes.
LAM: From the Ching Dynasty?
ROBERTS: From the Ching Dynasty, exactly.
LAM: I know anything could happen on the day. But what price are we looking at here?
ROBERTS: Well, we've got an estimate of I think it's $20,000 to $30,000 and I certainly hope it would sell for at least that sort of price.