Q&A: Dragon 8 auction house co-founder Gil Lempert-Schwarz


Selling never-before-seen items at industry-low commission costs, Dragon 8 is the first 100 percent Hong Kong established premium auction house. With a jaw-dropping collection sourced from private collectors around the world, Dragon 8 are hoping to make an impact on Hong Kong’s growing auctioneering stage with their impressive display of original artworks, diamonds and their fine wine and whisky selection. Emma Russell speaks to one of the founders, Gil Lempert-Schwarz, before their first auction. 

Why have you chosen to set up an auction house in Hong Kong? 
I’ve been dealing with wine for 25 years, auctioning hundreds of millions of dollars of wine in the past few and I just decided that now was the time to step it up a notch. I also used to own the first and oldest contemporary art gallery in Hong Kong back in 1998, called Artspace. We were about 10 years ahead of the time, before Art Basel or whoever else came to Hong Kong. We were doing all this really cool stuff and had unbelievable press on it. Then I sold the gallery and everything in 1999. Now I really feel like it’s time to join all the loves of my life together. And just have great wine, great whisky (which I love very much) and top fine art and diamonds. So that’s what we’ve done with Dragon 8, which we founded early this year. 

What makes you different? 
Well we’ve decided to come out with an industry low commission. So where the others charge 23 perecent [commission] on wines and whisky we’re only charging 20 percent. And with the art and the diamonds, they’re normally at about 25 percent up to a certain amount or 20 percent but we’re at 18.88 percent. We like the eights as you can tell. That is why we’re Dragon 8. 

Tell us more about your premier auction
The auction will also take place at the Grand Hyatt on November 20 and will be a classic evening sale with the art and the diamonds. Then on Saturday 21st we will sell the wine and the whisky. Normally you sit on rows of chairs and watch the auctioneer sit high on the podium and look down on people, which is very standard British way of doing things (you’re not even offered a glass of water while you watch the proceedings!). With us, we sit people around tables and serve food and wine while you bid for things. So people can just be merry – what a strange thought right? I am not sure why they haven’t figured out that if people drink some wine they might want to buy more. Traditional auction houses make the proceedings very drab and they have no feeling to it. It’s very clinical. 

What’s in your catalogue at the moment and how did you source what you have? 
What we do is source collectors, like this one collection we visited of a Swedish nobleman. Under his huge manor house you find this old great cellar full of treasure. We pick what we want then the gentleman consigns them to us. At the moment we have a Picasso and a Warhol in the collection, which is exciting. I wanted iconic pieces that really make a difference to put in the catalogue. It’s not about volume for us, its about picking pieces that are meaningful.

Why do you think sellers want to sell in Asia and why do they want to sell with Dragon 8 in particular? 
The people we deal with specifically do not want to use the large auction houses, this is partially to do with the fact they charge a lot and the fact high quality pieces are always sold in New York and London, never in Hong Kong. We are the first to bring that level of art to Hong Kong. Christie's and Sotherby’s would only sell the kinds of pieces we have (such as Warhols and Picassos) in London or New York. Hong Kong people still buy the works but in New York, so they have telephone bidders working for them, like Liu Yiqian who bought a Modigliani for over $100 million at Christie's in New York. 

We’re thinking that Hong Kong people in general, (well the Chinese) are big buyers so why not bring the pieces here? We’ve acquired the Warhol Panda, and that’s got to be in China, right? It’s got to come home.

Have you noticed a change in the kinds of people that are investing, since you started out? 
I’ve done business in Hong Kong for 25 years so I’ve noticed many things. Firstly, there is a core group of people that buy and sell things at auctions. Then there is a core group of the tycoon class who will always be buying at the forefront of auctions, and they buy and don’t sell. If they ever divest themselves of something they will do it very quietly. And then you have the new money, which is all mainland China. People that have all become wealthy in the past 10 years and have really gotten off the charts. There you really have no limit. It’s more like they’re trying to find themselves in what they want to invest in. This is all changing in China because President Xi put a whole kaput on the whole thing, they’ve made it very unpopular to show off. So in that sense Hong Kong has always been a ‘safe haven’ where people can feel a lot more safe when it comes to buying and selling things. The Mainland Chinese do most of their bidding through Hong kong, so yes the scenery has changed a bit. 

So you must think HK’s a safe haven at the moment? 
Well yeah! When the economy is in the crapper, investment in other asset classes goes way up. I’ve walked into auction houses on the weekend when the newspapers have had the biggest headlines I’ve ever scene, saying DEPRESSION, but in the auction house we just hit it out of the park. They put all their money into other things. Wine itself is very popular because it’s a double liquid asset in the sense that unlike stocks where, when they drop, you lose everything, at least with wine you can at least drink and be merry while everyone else is commiserating. 

Hong Kong people are also gamblers at heart, they’re punters. It’s like the horse racing, there’s such a fervor around the horse racing in Hong Kong. And the stock market is treated with the same gambling mentality because you see a lot of jitteriness, everyone surfs the high waves then gets out when it goes down. 

Dragon 8 is be holding its first auction on Fri 20 Nov 9 (fine art and diamonds) and Sat 21 Nov (wine and whisky) at the Grand Hyatt, 1 Habour Rd, Wan Chai. For more information visit dragon-8.com or call 2877 8008. 


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