Why Stradivarius Violins Are So Valuable

The name Stradivarius is associated with quality when it comes to instruments, particularly the violin. Apart from that, the brand also holds the title of having created the most expensive violin in the world — the Messiah — worth an estimated $20 million (via Fiddler's Guide). What's so special about Stradivarius violins, and why are they so expensive? There are many factors to consider when answering this question, some of which include the types of materials used, the quality of the craftsmanship, the maker, and the sound it produces.

The history of Stradivarius started with Antonio Stradivari, an Italian luthier who was born in 1644. Not many details are known about Stradivari, but he was popular during his time as a master craftsman when it came to creating stringed instruments, such as harps, cellos, guitars, and violins. According to the Smithsonian, Stradivari set up shop in Cremona, Italy, where he remained in the business of making instruments until he died in 1737. He manufactured more than a thousand instruments in his lifetime, and experts believe that approximately 650 of those instruments survive to this day.

The features of an authentic Stradivarius violin

Throughout the years, many have attempted to recreate Antonio Stradivari's quality violins. However, nothing beats the original. His violins are considered the best in the world when it comes to craftsmanship and sound. In fact, the sound produced by a Stradivarius violin was the focus of a study that MIT conducted. Researchers believed that the secret to the unique sound was caused by an elongated "f" hole on the violins, making the sound better, as reported by Phys.org. It is also suggested that Stradivari may have added an unknown substance to the wood to produce a sound that cannot be replicated by imitations.

Despite the quality of Stradivarius violins, they are far from perfect. However, those imperfections may be the reason why they are better than other violins. Physicist Dr. Franco Zanini studied Stradivari's craft and said, "We noticed there were a lot of asymmetries in the instruments. In principle, they have no reason to be there, but it is possible these imperfections were made to remove the unpleasant harmonics that you get in symmetrical instruments" (via The Telegraph).

There are many Stradivarius violins in circulation, but most are not authentic. Stradivari violins are known to have a Latin inscription that reads "Antonius Stradivarius Cremonesis Faciebat Anno" followed by the date when it was made. Although this may be present on a violin, it doesn't ascertain its authenticity, and authentications and appraisals are best left to experts.

Why are they expensive?

As the years pass, the cost of a Stradivarius violin seems to go higher. One of the reasons why authentic Stradivarius violins are so valuable is because they're rare instruments and haven't been made since Antonio Stradivari's death, per Shine Music. Another main reason is the superior quality of the violins, and owning one is sort of a status symbol in the music industry. Moreover, having a genuine Stradivarius violin means owning a piece of history that is hundreds of years old.

Stradivarius violins are so valuable, in fact, that a father and daughter were murdered over four of the instruments. Bernard Raymond von Bredow was a 62-year-old German who collected rare violins. In 2019, he moved to Paraguay with his daughter Lydia. In October 2021, the father and daughter were both discovered murdered in their home. Upon investigation, authorities believe that the culprits were after the authenticity certificates of the Stradivarius violins he owned so they can be sold, as reported by ATI. The home was found ransacked and there were signs that von Bredow was tortured.

Today, the most expensive Stradivarius violin called the "Messiah" is at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England. Stradivari made the violin in 1716 at the height of his success, and it remains in good condition, most likely because it was created as a collector's piece and was mostly kept in its case since its creation.