Rare stringed instruments are things of beauty – and a burgeoning asset class
Only about 900 Stradivari violins were ever made, Roman Goronok explains to Spear’s over coffee in the covered courtyard of 5 Hertford Street. A third have been lost or destroyed, mainly by the ravages of time and turmoil. Another third are in museums and collections and ‘will never be sold’. That leaves around 300 that might one day be available – if you’re willing to part with millions in exchange for a wooden box and a few strands of catgut.
Goronok’s mother is a successful professional musician (his father works as a luthier), and in his youth he was on a similar trajectory. But in his early twenties he suffered a serious accident that forced him to re-order his priorities. He realised then that he would not become one of the very best musicians in the world. But he could become one of the very best at something else.
In 2000, he set up the business that he runs today. He describes himself as a ‘relentless detective and matchmaker’ who spends his time finding ‘great masters’ violins and quietly putting them in the careful hands of renowned musicians’. He works with professional players to establish the kind of instrument they’re looking for – and then he uses his connections to find it. He describes his customers as ‘kindred spirits’ who understand both the importance of preserving these beautiful, historic objects, and their ‘undeniable high-performing investment qualities’.
Fine and rare stringed instruments (or ‘FRSI’, in the argot) have numerous strengths as an alternative asset, Goronok explains. They can be insured for 110 per cent of their purchase price; they are very difficult to sell on the black market (and therefore not especially attractive to would-be thieves or burglars); they can be authenticated with a high degree of confidence; and they ‘never’ lose value. This is because they are a ‘finite resource’, says Goronok. More violins are being made, of course, but ‘it will take 300 years for us to know if they are really good’.
The most expensive violin ever sold is thought to be the Vieuxtemps Guarneri Violin, which is rumoured to have fetched $16 million. It’s a complicated field to enter, of course. So what should be the first step for a would-be investor? That part is straightforward, says Goronok: ‘Come and see me.’
Photo: David Harrison