Globalization Holds Luthiers Hostage

CREMONA, Italy -- To craft a violin that will last for centuries, you need red maple, one month of painstaking work and that magic touch that turns wood into the instrument that most resembles the human voice.

Master luthier Antonio Stradivari followed this recipe 300 years ago, and this is still how violins are made in his hometown of Cremona in northern Italy.

But like Italy's artisan cobblers, bag makers and weavers, violin makers are feeling the pressure of counterfeits and cheap imports from Asia.

Cremona, a picturesque medieval town on the banks of the Po river, rose to world fame between the 16th and 18th centuries for its unrivaled expertise in violin making.

The violins made during this period are still prized. In May, a Stradivarius violin made in 1707 sold for $3.54 million at Christie's, becoming the most expensive musical instrument ever sold at auction.

Cremona's supremacy in those times was unchallenged, but modern violin makers have to adapt to a rapidly changing world. "Violin makers have to learn to confront globalization," said Giorgio Scolari, who has been teaching at Cremona's School for Violin Making for over 30 years.

While a new Cremona violin can sell for up to 12,000 euros ($15,000), Asian violins cost just a few hundred euros.

Cheap imports are not, however, as big a threat as counterfeiting.

To protect their tradition, Cremona masters have introduced a quality trademark and a sophisticated database that enables buyers to track Cremona-made violins all over the world.