We needed to find an object with a strong story, likely to make people dream, spark their desires and curiosity.

The treasure of a sunken junk, sinned off Borneo in the early 19th century…

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Atmosphère d’Ailleurs, we needed to find an object with a strong story, likely to make people dream, spark their desires and curiosity. When he finally found a set of antique Ming porcelain bowls discovered by the famous underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio in 1997 off Borneo, Thierry Grundman fulfilled an old dream. 

Bol en céladon, 16ième
Celadon bowl, 16th C

Franck Goddio, a child passionate about the sea, history and archaeology, embarked on underwater archeology after an international career as a financial adviser. In 1987, he founded the European Institute of Underwater Archeology (IEASM), whose mission is to search for wrecks, to ensure their excavation, restoration, scientific studies and publications as well as their dissemination to the public through books and revues, films and exhibitions. When called upon by the states directly (Egypt, Philippines), he explores with his team over a vast area using innovative methods like nuclear resonance magnetometers. Then he establishes hypotheses from which they can start excavations.

The treasure of the wreck of a Spanish galleon sunk in 1600 in Manila Bay in the Philippines, the San Diego, discovered after consulting the General Archives of India, was his first major international success. He found about 6000 objects, among which were coins, gold jewels, porcelains of the Ming Dynasty, weapons and cannons. Then followed a long and fruitful collaboration with the National Museum of the Philippines, punctuated by several discoveries of wrecks of galleons, ships and junks, including the Junk of Brunei, spotted in 1997 in North Borneo by geologists from Elf Petroleum Asia, and excavated under the direction of Michel L’Hour. To date, this treasure is probably the most important pre-European site discovered in the China Sea, with, among other things, thousands of Chinese ceramics from the 15th century, in excellent condition. In the 13th century, Marco-Polo was surprised by the gigantic size of the Chinese sea junks and their cargo. The ceramics acquired by Thierry Grundman come from a Chinese junk sunk in the 16th century off the coast of Borneo.


Porcelain, thanks to its perfect sealing, its solidity despite its finesse and its unique translucent effects, was an exceptional commodity already admired by Marco Polo. It is a special ceramic based on a very resistant white clay, kaolin (from the Gaoling village “high hills”), vitrified by firing. The colored decoration motifs are made unalterable by a vitrified glaze. This technique, which goes through 70 successive stages, was developed by the Chinese in the 3rd century. BC, and remained specifically Chinese and Far Eastern until the 18th century. Suffice to say that this is a real object of desire ! While most of the production was destined for the Imperial Court as tribute or for daily use, the other part was intended for export.

Petites tasses en porcelaine
Small porcelain tea cups, 16th C
Bol Ming, 16ième
Ming bowl, 16th C

Maritime Routes

The Portuguese created the first regular maritime routes with China and transported porcelain, of which there was no equivalent in Europe. As it become an object of real desire, porcelain was then massively imported first by the Dutch East India Company, new undisputed masters of the seas – via Batavia (Djakarta) and Amsterdam, and finally by English and French companies.

It is in homage to these great transoceanic companies created by Colbert and to sailors, importers of spices and other precious goods that Thierry Grundman named his first company: TG Compagnie. Hundreds of ships and galleons, chartered to fetch precious goods, then took an important and long trade route – including the Silk Road and the Spice Route – linking the main European ports to China and even the Philippines, passing by the Cape of Good Hope, Mauritius, Reunion, Ormuz, Goa, Macao, Batavia…. , so many important counters and relays of cultures and ideas. Since the 13th century. the audacity of navigators and the genius of cartographers have pushed the limits of trade ever further via the sea routes.

The junks, on the other hand, were part of the Chinese imperial fleet which dominated the China Sea and then the Indian Ocean and operated as far as Borneo and the Philippines. During these long sea journeys, which could last up to two years, shipwrecks were unfortunately frequent. The wrecks thus found are named after the name of the reef close to the place of their discovery.  Some of these ships had sunk with their cargoes of porcelain, thus providing a valuable time capsule containing unique period information, which has allowed scientists to trace the course of the maritime trade over six centuries.

Céramiques en céladon, Sawankhalok, 16ième
Bols Sawankhalok, 16ième

The 2001 UNESCO Convention

Because the seabed is “the largest museum in the world” and the discovery of wrecks is of “archaeological, historical or artistic” interest as indicated by French legislation – the IEASM/FEFNA and the National Museum of Philippines have defined a research project to study the history of the archipelago through trade, from the 8th C. – 9th C. in the 18th C. Collaboration with States thus avoids the looting and destruction of ships and their precious cargoes by greedy and unscrupulous individuals.

The 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage, which counts thousands of underwater wrecks around the world, aims to transform the oceans into gigantic observatories and complements the conventions for the protection of heritage against looting or conflicts. At the same time, it declares war on treasure hunters, accused of destroying historical evidence. In the context of these excavations, the law provides that the masterpieces of these findings are to be immediately added to the museum collections of the country in which they were discovered, whereas the other items are divided among the archeologists in possession of the underwater excavation permit. Franck Goddio has chosen to donate certain objects to museums, to keep others, and to sell some of the pieces discovered to finance his underwater research. This is how Thierry Grundman was able to acquire them.

” A year of approach, research, quest, and investigation to finally find out which Borneo merchant owned them! This is one of my two biggest «crushes» since I started travelling in Indonesia. A crush, of which I am only the intermediary, because soon, thanks to these fabulous ceramics our decorator clients will in turn make their clients dream “.

Bols Ming et Qing, 16ième-19ième
Ming et Qing bowls, 16th-19th
Bols Ming et Qing, 16ième-19ième
Ming et Qing bowls, 16th-19th


Each piece in our collection was meticulously selected by Thierry Grundman according several determining factors : timelessness, sobriety, elegance of the proportions and a thousand other small details that the trained eye appreciates or rejects. But the hand chooses as much as the eye… the material, the texture speak directly to the brain, which decides! Porcelain is no exception to this rule. Here, there is no painted decoration, only plain and soft pastel tones, resulting from exceptional human know-how, and from the corrosion of a glaze resulting from a 5-century immersion in salt water. A texture of incredible softness when the salt ended up removing the vitrified layer of the porcelain, or on the contrary interesting calcareous encrustations which sometimes welded several porcelains together. Fragile, yes, but strong. They not only survived the violence of a shipwreck and their long stay under the sea, but also their multiple journeys…. until the next. Appropriating even a tiny part of this story, which began more than half a millennium ago, is a tremendous catalyst for the imagination !

You wish to add an exceptionnal piece to your project ? Check the available items on our dedicated marine archeology page or contact us to book an appontement in our showroom and see the whole collection.