Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Economist: Italy's Violin Cluster

"Having come back from the dead, Cremona's instrument-makers, like many others in Italian industries, hope that an emphasis on quality, tradition and craftsmanship will keep cheaper foreign rivals at bay."
-The Economist (Italy's Violin Cluster)
Here's another great short article about the violin making business. It comes from the print edition of the Economist but it's published online at the Economist.com (one of my favorite magazines but out of my price range for an annual subscription).

Their's plenty of labor in China to churn out great makers but what's surprising is that for a little country like Italy to have the highest concentration of makers in the world. Alex has been telling me that while China now produces the bulk of commercial stringed instruments, old world European countries such as Italy have been able to compete by increasing the quality of their instruments. It's a similar business strategy you see with the popularity of high-end luxury goods like Gucci or Armani.

Specifically, we're talking about the region of Cremona. This is place where greats like Stradivarius and Guarneri were located. Despite the recent economic trends of a stronger Euro towards the US dollar, the surplus of Italian makers has resulted in the production of world class instruments at competitively low prices in the area. There's not enough of a demand over there but plenty across the Atlantic. Here in America there isn't as big a pool of world class American makers in production, partly due to the very competitive market of Chinese instruments, but many of their works are a bit over priced for the market. It's one of the reasons why some of our top Italian violins that we sell like Maurizio Tadioli or Ada Quaranta consistently beat out the competition. Plus it also helps too when we're located in Omaha Nebraska where the cost of living is cheap and and there aren't as many competing violin shops like the big New York City or Chicago

The article cites some more historical examples as to what lead to the revival of Italian violin making. A new school for making was opened in the late 1930s and the article cites Cremonese maker Hildegard Dodel who credits the renewed interest in Baroque music in the 60s and 70s helped sustain the demand for violin making.

I didn't realize Italy's violin making tradition had a significant period of really bad years. The 19th century seems to drag in low quality. If I were to guess why, it may have been those competitive commercially made German instruments that were hitting the scene at the end of the 19th c. and early 20th century. Honestly, I don't know, need to probably ask Alex some more about this.

Another interesting thing I've found in this article is that these craftsman schools are increasingly becoming international. A little more than a third of them are coming from where? Developed Asian countries.

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