It’s always fascinating to read a story about the painting that has sold for a colossal sum, having been bought for just hundreds of pounds years ago. Less widely told are the stories of the works that are bought for a fortune and years later are worth a fraction of the price. The art market moves constantly, influenced by fluctuations in taste and the economy, and the value of objects can change at a rapid pace.

Stephen Meadowcroft, Director of independent valuation firm Gurr Johns Ltd, points to a few factors driving these changes. For example, there’s a greater audience of younger collectors in today’s market, resulting in an increase in the value of contemporary art and design, while today’s interior designers tend to favour a more modern and sometimes minimal look. While contemporary art is in vogue and driving the market, Old Masters, silver and brown furniture currently appeal to a smaller, narrower group of collectors.

The shifting world economy also adds another dimension. “Over the last decade, the market for Chinese works of art has increased hugely,” says Stephen. But even the finest examples of art, antiques and collectables can struggle if they fall out of fashion. Some pieces of traditional English or continental furniture, for example, might have lost as much as 40 per cent in value over the last decade or so. “Sunday lunches and formal dining furniture no longer play a central part in today’s modern lifestyle,” continues Stephen.

Jewellery and vintage watches have shown a certain consistency over the years, often returning an annual appreciation of eight to 10 per cent for good examples by recognised craftsmen. “If you haven’t had a valuation for three years, you might already be underinsured by as much as 30 to 40 per cent,” he says. “The market can move very fast for the right pieces, and people often don’t realise things are going up the way they are.”

Stephen recommends regular re-valuations of valuable objects. It might not restore eroding value, and objects may go down as well as up, but it will ensure that you maintain correct insurance coverage of your objects, as well as helping to inform any decisions on selling.

Some valuers offer an annual online valuation to give owners a good overview of market fluctuations. Gurr Johns maintains its own detailed database across a wide range of items, and every category of art and collectable has a recognised valuation expert. They have amassed years of experience while working
for the major salesrooms, and they constantly keep their knowledge current by tracking trends on behalf of their clients. “The experience of the valuer is the key factor,” says Stephen.

The price is right?

Stephen Meadowcroft explains the challenges of valuation.

“One area of the market that has seen a huge increase over the last 15 years is Chinese art.  We valued a particularly fine Chinese jade dish in 2001 when it was worth £12,000. It went to auction in 2011 with an estimated value of £50,000 to £80,000 and sold for £190,000. The valuations were all in line with the market at the time, but the market was just moving with great pace.”

Research for a valuation involves like-for-like checks of recent prices at auction and in retail outlets to establish an object’s replacement value. For collectables such as tribal art, which are difficult to value because of their rarity, expert knowledge is essential to maintain the correct insurance cover.

“When we do a valuation, we talk to the client to determine what sort of galleries and shops they buy from and use that as a guide. Someone in the south-west of England who normally buys from a local antiques shop wouldn’t want their valuation – and therefore their insurance cover – set at Bond Street retail prices.”

What you should know about a professional valuation

  • Knowing what you have is the
key to peace of mind. You should commission an itemised valuation which will in turn suggest your appropriate level of insurance 

  • Regular re-valuation helps you maintain proper cover on your assets. NFU Mutual suggests every five years for contents and every three years for jewellery; for objects that are currently in vogue, every year may be more suitable 

  • The walk-through validation carried out by valuers will give only an indication of your appropriate insurance level. The valuer will refer to specialists for confirmation
  • Many large valuation specialists offer desktop re-valuation of objects that have already been itemised and will alert owners to market changes that may affect them.