Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Tributary Gifts

The granddaddy who started the gift-giving trend: Stanley Ho
In imperial times, diplomatic missions and those seeking trade with China would come bearing gifts in the hopes of currying favour with the emperor. And the tradition continues to today.

And these days it can't just be frivolous presents -- they have to have deep patriotic meaning.

Casino tycoon Stanley Ho started it in 2009 when he paid $8.9 million for a bronze horse's head that was one of 12 animals in the zodiac that was supposed to be part of a water clock fountain in Yuanmingyuan, or the Summer Palace.

He preempted the Sotheby's auction of the head, that was previously owned by a Taiwanese collector and announced he was donating it to China. Ho also bought the head of the boar in a private sale and gave that to Beijing's Poly museum, which also has the head of the monkey and the ox.
Steve Wynn's gift of four 18th century vases at Wynn Macau

And then two years ago Steve Wynn followed suit with four massive 18th century porcelain vases worth $12.8 million at a Christie's auction in London. The vases will be displayed in his new Cotai resort hotel that is slated to open in a few years, but are now on show at the lobby of Wynn Macau.

He also snapped up a Chinoiserie tapestry at the sale.

"We are delighted to return works of this extraordinary quality to the city of Macau and the People's Republic of China," said Roger Thomas, executive vice president of design for Wynn Design and Development. Thomas is the main designer of all Wynn's resorts and did the actual telephone bidding for the vases.

However, both tycoons are trumped a few days ago by French billionaire Francois Pinault's donation of two more bronze animal heads that were supposedly worth $40 million in a Christie's auction in 2009.

Pinault's family runs soon-to-be-called Kering, formerly PPR that owns such luxury brands as Gucci, Alexander McQueen, Balanciaga, Saint Laurent Paris, Boucheron, Bottega Veneta and now Pomellato.

The rabbit and rat heads were previously owned by fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge.

After Saint Laurent's death, Berge put the heads up for auction which roused controversy in China. The winning bidder was Cai Mingchao, a known Chinese collector, but refused to pay the winning bid of 15.6 million euros (about $20 million) each.

The controversial rabbit and rat heads from the Pinault family
Because Cai refused to pay, Berge was allowed to take the heads back and at the time the Frenchman declared in an interview that if China was going to exercise human rights, give Tibetans their freedom and allow the Dalai Lama back to the country, he would gladly give the heads back, but China scoffed the offer.

And then now, somehow, Pinault managed to retrieve the heads from Berge but there is no word on how much the billionaire paid him, or what kind of deal was struck.

"The family went to great efforts to retrieve these two significant treasures of China and strongly believe they belong in their rightful home," the Pinault family office said in an email statement. "The family would like to acknowledge Christie's role in facilitating this return."

Christie's is owned by Pinault's father Francois's company, Artemis SA.

China of course was none too pleased. "The Chinese side offers its high praise for this action and considers that it conforms with the spirit of relevant international cultural heritage protection treaties," said a statement on the State Administration of Cultural Heritage website.

The end result? Kering's first quarter revenue was up 3 percent to 2.4 billion euros. Luxury goods was up 6 percent with those in China up 10 percent.

We shall see how well this gift serves Pinault and Kering in the future considering luxury spending is dropping drastically in the start of the second quarter...


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