Posted: March 24, 2019 -
Value and authenticity are concepts that widely impact all areas of our day to day lives. With people buying and selling works everyday it is essential we have some sort of infrastructure in place to asses objects and their value, today’s art market expects this type of assessment. Art is a financial asset; therefore, you are not going to invest in a work that has not been verified by a reliable expert.
Appraisals are a valuable way of finding out the value of anything from a piece of fine art to antiques, collectibles and real estate. An objects value is directly impacted by its provenance and authenticity along with other factors such as its material. The art market is unregulated and there is no current standardised art valuation process, however, in a world that strives for increased transparency it is generally expected to have an appraisal. Appraisals usually include a description of the object, details of provenance as well as a valuation carried out against the current market conditions.
Valuing objects is a complex process, the authenticity otherwise known as ‘the soul of the object’ has to conform to all elements required of that particular category.
You may need an appraisal for the following reasons:
- To sell
- To gain an understanding of its market value
- To loan
- To determine market trends
Up until fairly recently collectors would have to go into an auction house or visit a specialist with a high-quality photograph of the object or the real thing in order to get a valid appraisal. Since then auction houses have undergone a digital transformation whereby they offer new kinds of services. Traditional auction houses such as Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonham’s now offer online tools which act as a guide for users who are looking to have items valued. Platforms provide similar style services; Artprice is a French online database created in 1987 which grants users access to their auction database and details information on the art marketplace. Artnet also offers a tool which helps users determine the value of their art, through the database you can search over 12 million auction sales and prices whilst looking at comparable lots in order to carry out your own price comparison.
Whilst these platforms provide valuable market research tools, there is a growing need from individuals and auction houses wanting a quick and easy service for evaluations. As a result, there has been a rise in platforms solely dedicated to offering online appraisals.
Launched in 2009, Value My Stuff pitches itself as ‘the world’s no.1 valuation site,’ this could be true considering 62 of their experts formerly worked at Sotheby’s, Christie’s or Phillips. Additionally, their founder is former Director of Sothebys, Patrick van der Vorst. The process is straight forward, in order to get an appraisal, you must upload images of the object along with any information regarding markings or additional details. Value My Stuff charge for their appraisals with a credit system, whereby one credit gets you an appraisal within 48hours, but for more credits this can be shortened to just 24 hours. Value My Stuff was recently acquired by the Swedish group Barnebys who saw a growing need for auction houses and individuals around the world wanting “quick valuations for their items by competent experts.”
Mearto was founded in 2015, their tagline: “Instant appraisals for special objects.” They take hundreds of appraisal requests per week including fine art, jewellery, antique furniture, design and silver. Once you have submitted your item to Mearto it is valued by multiple auction houses, giving the user the opportunity to get as precise estimate as possible. This is also helpful as it gives the opportunity to gauge which auction house is best to sell the item through. Should the item go onto to sell through a recommended auction house Mearto receives a commission. Mearto also has in house specialists who are able to review your items free of charge.
Co-Founder Mads Hallas Bjerg told us that they differ from other appraisal services as they give their collectors the opportunity to speak directly to an expert until they are fully satisfied with the evaluation. Additionally, they have built a reverse auction database whereby auction houses can compete for leads to benefit private sellers. Collectors are given the opportunity to connect directly with a pool of global auction houses should they decide to sell. “So for $17 you get an independent appraisal of your item and the chance to connect with multiple auction houses for possible consignment.” It has recently been announced that Mearto will be partnering with Invaluable, the world’s leading online marketplace for fine art, antiques and collectibles. Through this partnership they hope to help “private sellers understand the true value of their objects and bring them to auction.”
Expertiz is a new online appraisal platform, launched in Switzerland in January 2019. They look to bring digital technology into the most traditional aspects of the art market. Their service is a blend of digital and physical as whilst they offer a full online appraisal service, users can also have an expert visit their house or they can go into expertiZ directly. CEO and co-founder, Benjamin Weill, told us that unlike Value My Stuff and Mearto, expertiZ is not an 100% digital player, instead they are a mixed model. Their focus is on finding the right experts in the specified field for all of their appraisals, whilst also taking the location of the customer into account as in some circumstances the work may have to be examined in real life. Currently based in Switzerland, Weill told us that they are looking to first expand throughout Europe and then on a global scale.
Online appraisal systems are an indication of how technology has affected the appraisal business, but how will it progress in the coming years? Blockchain technology which stamps an artwork recording its provenance and record of authenticity permanently on the digital ledger may be a viable option. However, for older works this would mean they would have needed to be recorded with accuracy from their date of creation, therefore, this could become tricky.
In the future Artificial Intelligence may have the ability to judge and value works of art. Mearto have published a thorough report on this here. In the report Erin Marie Wallace who has been a professional appraiser for several years predicts that the role of the appraiser will become “even more entwined with technology.” Although Wallace admits Artificial intelligence has a huge amount of potential, remarking it can currently recognise and locate comparable items online, it is still lacking in its ability to “critically compare items or judge the validity of information given about items.” Both Mads Hallas Berg and Benjamin Weill acknowledged the potential impact that Artificial Intelligence could have on the online appraisal business, but also agreed that until it has reached the potential to eliminate human error it cannot replace the role of the human completely.
There is the need for a standardized approach to valuing art, could this be through the use of Artificial Intelligence? Or do we need to rely on expert opinions – perhaps a mixture of the two could create a new industry standard?
Cover image: (c) Expertiz