When the pandemic put a halt to the auction world three years ago, the industry has taken a massive digital leap – online auction is now a new norm and acquiring art from auctions has become more reachable than ever.
Earlier this month, William Chak, founder of Chak’s and one of the biggest names among antiques dealers, has taken the trend even further by bringing authentic Chinese antiques to China’s TikTok – now the most downloaded app in the world. With livestream previews and biddings, millennials and tech-savvy collectors can now explore and even own Chinese antiques at their fingertips.
William Chak (right), founder of Chak’s, launched online auction on China's TikTok
While the younger generations might perceive Chinese antiques as out-fashioned and unrelatable, William Chak has proved it is not so by combining two seemingly irrelevant things together: antiques and social media. Having appeared on several TV shows, Chak becomes an influencer in Mainland China, with over 1 million followers on Weibo and China's TikTok. Endeavoured to promote Chinese antiques, he generously shares his profound knowledge on Chinese antiques to netizens and replies questions for them every day.
In recent months, Chak has maximised the social media platform to its fullest potential, putting up a rich array of rare Chinese works of art accross dynasties for live auction on TikTok. With more than 2 billion mobile downloads, TikTok is now the most popular video-sharing app and the top social media platform.
Prior to the auction, Chak would personally show and introduce each lot to his viewers in the livestream previews, where the audience could immediately raise questions and get answered. The sale would then be held on another day, giving time for collectors to think about the purchase.
The top lot in the debut TikTok auction of Chak's, which fetched RMB 402,500 (around US$58,600)
The top lot in the second TikTok auction of Chak's, which fetched RMB 437,000 (around US$63,600)
A mixture of new and old, TikTok auction has made acquiring Chinese antiques accessible like never before. When it comes to auction, what springs to our minds is glamour –previews held at five-star hotels, bidding wars between millionaires, and professional yet unapproachable specialists. TikTok sale, on the other hand, appears to be much more down-to-earth, allowing instant communication not only between connoisseurs and netizens, but also with a reputed antique expert – and everything happens within grasps.
Chak's ground-breaking TikTok auction turned out to be a massive success. Two sales were held during July and August, featuring a wide variety of ancient Chinese ceramics produced from imperial or folk kilns during Ming and Qing dynasties (1368 - 1911). While all lots were offered at an affordable starting price of RMB 1,000 (around US$145), the final prices in the two auctions range from RMB 10,000 (around US$1,460) to under RMB 500,000 (around US$73,000).
In the end, both sales achieved white-glove results – the first 50-lot auction garnered RMB 3.3 million (around US$483,000) and the second with 25 lots fetched RMB 2.8 million (around US$411,000). With hundreds of thousands audience during the live stream, the debut auction even once became the hottest topic on China's TikTok in Beijing.
William Chak's livestream once become the hottest topic on China's TikTok in Beijing
In the Chinese antiques community, William Chak is someone special. While his name sits alongside other distinguished art dealers such as Giuseppe Eskenazi, J.J. Lally, Marchant & Son, he is also an internet sensation, a professor at university – and now an auction house’s owner.
Macau-born and Hong Kong-raised, Chak has developed a strong interest in Chinese antiques since childhood under the influence of his father. In the 1980s, Chak opened his first shop – Chak’s – on Hollywood Road in Central, which has since become a landmark in the district. With integrity and exceptional taste, he began sourcing a rich array of Chinese works of art around the globe, from scholar’s objects and embroidery to ivory carving and jade. Among them, he is particularly tied to ceramics.
William Chak acquired the Qing dynasty imperial porcelain vase for his client at a record price in 2005
Renowned for his discerning eye, Chak has handled some of the finest and record-breaking pieces over the years. One of his crowning moments happened in 2005, when he bought an imperial porcelain vase for his client at HK$115.4 million (US$14.8 million) – which was at the time an auction record for Qing dynasty porcelain and also the most expensive work of art ever sold in Asia. It was when he made a splash and became a familiar name not only in the antiques world, but also in Hong Kong.
In 2021, a Qing dynasty imperial yangcai revolving phoenix vase has renewed the auction record for the most valuable ceramic vessel at a whopping RMB 265.7 million (US$41.6 million). When the vase made its auction debut in 1999 at Christie’s London, it was Chak who found the gem and paid £331,500 (US$537,030) for it.
His expertise, however, is not limited to ceramics. In the same year, an imperial Large Gilt-bronze figure of Avalokitesvara grabbed headlines as it sold for a staggering price at RMB 126.5 million (around US$18.4 million). And the sculpture had also been acquired by Chak, where he bid it at HK$5.5 million (around US$719,000) in 2001 – meaning its value has appreciated nearly 24 times over two decades.
The world's most expensive ceramic which fetched US$41.6 million had once been acquired by William Chak
An Imperial Large Gilt-bronze Figure of Avalokitesvara which sold at RMB 126.5 milion (US$18.4 million) had once been acquired by William Chak
Despite having solid practical experience in art dealing, Chak never stops learning and seeking new knowledge. In 1999, he returned to study at the age of 43, deepening his understandings on antiquity in the School of Archaeology and Museology at Peking University. His expertise and reputation have also earned him the title of professor – in 2008, he became the first foreign professor at the Department of Archaeology of Graduate School of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; and in 2020, Jinan University appointed him as the adjunct professor in College of Arts.
Throughout the years, his enthusiasm for Chinese antiques hasn't waned a bit. Dedicated to spreading Chinese culture and cross-cultural exchange, Chak and his wife Priscilla Lau – also a respected antique dealer – co-founded the first International Antiques Fair in 2008. Ever since, it has established itself as one of the most prominent art events in Asia, gathering East-West antiques and art dealers from around the world in Hong Kong every year.
Now, Chak's footprints have been expanded to Beijing, where he entered the field of auctioneering for the first time, in addition to antique deals. In the future, Chak as an auction house's owner will continue to adopt this innovative form of TikTok sale, striving to spread Chinese antiques to general public and pass on the heritage.
Since 2008, William Chak has held International Antiques Fair in Hong Kong every year
First auction held by Chak's in Beijing