Christie's sells $25 million of goods in its first China auction

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SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Christie’s sold $25 million worth of art, jewelry, watches and wine on Thursday at its first auction in China, as it became the latest international auction house to operate on the mainland.

The 153 million yuan sale was a fraction of the $6.27 billion in global sales the company handled last year, but the event was a landmark for the 247-year-old company as it moves into what is now the world’s most lucrative art market.

In September 2012, rival Sotheby’s became the first international auction house licensed to hold auctions in China.

“Interest from Chinese buyers was very strong, with international bidders on the phone and online all coming together,” Christie’s CEO Steven Murphy told a news conference after the auction in central Shanghai.

Among the 43 works on sale, Pablo Picasso’s 1969 “Homme Assis” oil painting fetched $1.9 million, almost double its pre-auction estimate, while the most expensive item was a ruby and diamond necklace that sold for $3.5 million.

China led world auction revenue for arts and collectables in 2012 with 8.9 billion euros ($12.02 billion), according to the French government’s Conseil des Ventes art market report.

But the market has been dogged by a range of problems, including a large-scale Chinese customs probe into tax evasion on art imports that has cooled sentiment. Taxes, regulations, widespread fakes and market manipulation are other risks, experts say.

Christie’s, a privately held company, posted record revenues of 3.9 billion pounds ($6.3 billion) in 2012, a rise of 10 percent against 2011.

Reporting by John Ruwitch, Jiang Xihao and Adam Jourdan; Writing by John Ruwitch; Editing by Robin Pomeroy