Market meltdown leaves antiques dealers on the shelf

By Zhao Xu in Beijing and Zhang Kun in Suzhou ( China Daily ) Updated: 2016-07-26 08:20:25

Market meltdown leaves antiques dealers on the shelf

Empty stalls at Panjiayuan, Beijing's biggest antiques market. Photos by Zou Hong/China Daily

China's collectibles' market hit a high in 2011, but then the bubble burst, leaving private vendors and craftsman desperate for sales. Zhao Xu reports from Beijing and Zhang Kun from Suzhou

Having lived off his "feathery art" for more than four decades, attending to the needs of a select band of customers from his private workshop, Xiao Guangchun has finally decided to open a public work space in a business center in east Beijing.

The craft the 60-something craftsman diligently learned, painstakingly practiced and now jealously guards from everyone except his children is called diancui, which means "dipping blue", and involves applying kingfisher feathers to the surfaces of gold jewelry.

The technique has been employed for centuries, especially to add a beautiful dash of shimmering blue or indigo to the gold and gilt silver accessories that adorned the ladies of the imperial court.

"Antique collectors and dealers from both in and outside of China came to me. For many years, I just bent over my work desk," Xiao said. Commissions kept flooding in, and apart from fulfilling them, all he had to do was to raise his prices from time to time.

"My clients seldom complained," said Xiao, who used to charge about 10,000 yuan ($1,500) to turn a pair of antique gold earrings, sometimes unearthed with the diancui having rotted away, into a lustrous piece worthy of a national museum.

However, a few years ago, the antique market entered a prolonged downward spiral from which it has yet to recover. The spate of orders Xiao had enjoyed dwindled to a thin stream before becoming sporadic. Now he charges less for his expertise, but he declined to give details of his current prices.

"Before, I was sought out by eager clients, but nowadays, we need more visibility, and therefore a workshop in a business center," said Xiao, referring to himself and his daughter, whose mastery of her newly acquired skills is still shaky.

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