Auction house Bonhams opens Singapore office

Ms Bernadette Rankine, Bonhams' newly-appointed director, is responsible for business and client development in Singapore and South-east Asia. -- ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN 
Ms Bernadette Rankine, Bonhams' newly-appointed director, is responsible for business and client development in Singapore and South-east Asia. -- ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN 

Auction house Bonhams, regarded as the third largest and fastest-growing auction house in the world, has its eyes on Singapore and the region.

While there are no immediate plans to hold an auction here, the international auction house has opened an office in Wisma Atria ahead of its preview to be held at The Regent Singapore.

On Friday and Saturday, expect to see several star lots in the categories of fine jewellery, jadeite, 20th-century Asian and contemporary art and rare wines, cognac and single malt whiskey. These will be auctioned from May 17 to 26 at the Bonhams Hong Kong Gallery.

Among the star lots planned for display are fine jadeite bangles, diamond bracelets, diamond earrings weighing 3.52 carats and 3.57 carats, and the first Macallan in a Lalique Decanter. The decanter, one of only 470 in the world, is filled with rare 50-year-old Macallan whiskey.

The newly appointed representative and director of the Singapore office, Ms Bernadette Rankine, tells Life! ahead of the preview that the office here is meant to step up its "Asia presence" against the "backdrop of a burgeoning Asian collectors market".

In a statement, chairman of Bonhams Asia Colin Sheaf says one of the reasons for opening an office here was the "Singapore government's impressive championing of South Asian art projects".

With a presence here, he adds, Bonhams can have greater access to its clients in the South-east Asian region as well as reach out to new buyers and sellers through its Singapore previews, receptions and art lectures.

Bonhams is among the world's leading auction houses together with Christie's and Sotheby's, both of which have offices here.

All three, however, hold their auctions for the Asia Pacific region in Hong Kong, and Bonhams has no plans yet to hold auctions in Singapore.

Ms Rankine says opening an office here is an important move for Bonhams as a physical presence here allows it to reach out to new clients.

She adds: "The South-east Asian market is growing. This is being represented through sales as well as the increasing number of artworks that are showing up at auction. There was a need to have specialists based here, so clients can have easier access." .

Indeed, this weekend's preview will see works from the region, including leading contemporary Filipino artist Geraldine Javier's 2010 diptych, Duck In Pineapple Sauce Vitrines With Embroidery, measuring 92cm x 67cm and with an estimate of HK$130,000 (S$21,100) to HK$170,000.

As director, Ms Rankine oversees the office, travels extensively around the region and has two fine art specialists based here.

She says: "We have never had an office here and one good indication was the recent appraisal of artworks we did in Singapore. Over 200 people showed up and we had to issue queue numbers so that people would not have to wait too long."

The opening of the Singapore office comes just months after Bonhams officially opened its new £30-million New Bond Street headquarters in London. Praised by the city's mayor Boris Johnson for not only bringing jobs and investment opportunities to London, the new headquarters is also a testament to London's status as a global centre for art.

She says the Singapore office carries with it similar hopes. "With the National Gallery Singapore, the development of Gillman Barracks as well as the Freeport in Changi and Art Stage Singapore, the Singapore Government has shown its commitment towards the arts.

"This is as good a time as any for us to have a presence here. I find the market is becoming more sophisticated. More people are looking at art and buying it," says Ms Rankine, an industry veteran who was formerly one of the first directors of international player Opera Gallery which has a branch here.

In her new post, she says, she will be playing the "role of a matchmaker."

As a former gallerist who has travelled extensively around the world, she knows where "to find the right market for art". She feels that a rare work can sometimes have a market in Hong Kong and at other times it could sell well in London. Finding the right market is something she will be looking at.

For now though, her focus is on the upcoming preview.

"We are flying a number of spcialists who can give potential buyers and sellers expert advice in a range of categories, from fine art to jewellery to spirits. I think this is the best time to join the Asia team to build the brand in the region."