An article in the September 2012 Orientations Magazine prompts me to write this Blog.How safe is it to trust us experts?  After all, most of us experts have handled Asian art, dealt with Asian art, bought and sold Asian art, learned about Asian for a long time and live with it on a daily basis. What the client sometimes does not realize and perhaps not every appraiser explains this- as an appraiser I do not necessarily authenticate. A piece probably cannot be appraised without  authentication and in many cases  authentication  is relatively easy. But ever so often I am asked to appraise a piece  or a collection where I have to go back to my books and where I have to consult with a museum curator, another appraiser, a specialized dealer or a collector about authenticity.  It could be a piece I am not so familiar with, something I have not studied before,  or  a piece I would like to have a second opinion about.  This has to be done to render due diligence  and it may take time. And as an appraiser I have to be able to defend my conclusions as to value in court, if necessary.

Back to the article The Case of the Bogus Burial Suit,” written by  Bao Pu and Renee Chiang, founders of  New Century Press, and collectors of early jade. The authors tell us about a jade burial suit made up of thousands of polished pieces of jade like we have seen in one or the other Chinese exhibit, that had been dated to the Han period  (206 B.C. to 220 A. D.) and appraised at RMB2.4 billion. A bank was overly impressed by this suit and its owner and loaned RMB 600million to the owner  for a real estate project. The owner squandered RMB60million before the court started investigating and put him in jail after the “maker” of the jade suit confessed having been hired by the owner to produce the suit.

The authors go on to write about a Han period jade object that sold at Beijing Zhongjia International Auctions for RMB220 million. The price was outrageously high for a piece that was widely regarded as a fake. Experts defended the authenticity including the jade expert at  the Palace Museum.  This put the spotlight back on the jade suit and on the experts who had  authenticated the piece –  five   highly regarded Chinese experts, including the world’s most highly respected jade expert in the world – Yang Boda.  Journalists from the Beijing News looked over some 350 volumes of court documents trying to solve the puzzle – how could  five experts mistakenly authenticate a piece.  The investigative report by the Beijing News found that   Shi Shuqing , former Vice Chairman of the National Committee of Cultural Relics, now deceased,  was the only one who had actually inspected the piece and the other experts had agreed with his opinion without inspecting the piece –  out of respect.

It turns out that the successful bidder of the Han period jade object has yet to pay up.  The Chinese antiquity market has often puzzled  Westerners  but it is even more confusing for an appraiser and the client  who trusts us appraisers.  Showing me an item or sending me a photo might be sufficient to render an opinion but in many cases I cannot render an opinion without  studying the piece and having access to previous ownership records.

Let me know if this is confusing!
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