Why Stradivarius violins are worth millions

In 2008 violinist Philippe Quint was
flying back to New York from a concert in Dallas.
He took a taxi from the Newark Airport to Manhattan and before he could take
his violin out, the car pulled away. It probably the scariest and most
devastating experience of my life. The cab driver returned the instrument a
few hours later, but the incident scarred Philippe for good reason. This wasn’t
just any violin he left in the cab. This was a Stradivarius violin worth over
four million dollars that’s on loan to him. It’s like losing part of yourself,
you know. It’s like somebody cut off your hand and especially given the fact it’s
not your hand. This hand already was belonging to someone else. Even if you’re
not a musician like me, you’ve probably still heard of a Stradivarius violin. Stradivarius. Stradivarius. Stradivarius. There’s some of the most famous string instruments in the world. And some of the
most renowned musicians have declared their love for them. This instrument has
a soul and it has an imagination. It’s not a tool. It is a part — it’s a total
extension of me. Strads, as they’re sometimes called, are incredibly valuable
and can be worth up to 16 million dollars. But are they actually worth it? I headed up to Lincoln Center to meet Michelle Kim to find out. I am the assistant concert master of the New York Philharmonic. The characteristic of a Strad in general
is that it has a silvery tone. And it creates this incredibly sweet tone, so if
you were… For me the Strad has a sweet quality to
it, but also able to take some blows. So if I were to play something really hard… and versus you know something… By playing
on my daughter’s instrument I would have had to… press kind of hard to to make that sound
come out, but you would lose the quality that you’re actually looking for. The source of the Strad’s brilliant sound can be traced back to its maker artisan
Antonio Stradivari was a luthier or violin maker who lived in Cremona, Italy
in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. He crafted these string
instruments for most of his life and produced an estimated 1,100 instruments
in his lifetime. But only about 650 survived today. These instruments are
rare and there’s a long tradition of nicknaming them. The 310 year-old violin that Philippe plays is called Ruby. I have to admit, I’m a little nervous to be around that. My god, please don’t do that. I googled the gemstone
the ruby and the description, I think was that it’s a stone of passion and mystery. And immediately I attributed these qualities to this violin and to this day
I really feel that it’s true. For generations, musicians have claimed that
Strads have a superior sound to modern violins, but can most people actually
tell the difference? Researchers in Paris performed a double-blind study with
professional violinists, to see if they could tell the difference between old
Italian violins like Strads and new violins. They had musicians wear
very cool sunglasses while they played multiple instruments from each era. The study found that even elite
musicians couldn’t reliably tell which violins were old and which were new. And maybe more surprisingly, most of them actually preferred the sound of the new
violins over the Strads. One measure of This is Joseph Curtin,
one of the researchers behind the study and a violin maker himself. But maybe the worth of a Strad
isn’t wrapped up in its sound alone. Michelle’s violin has been passed down
through generations of violinists for almost 300 years, from the Duke of
Cambridge, to the German composer Louis Spohr, to Ureli Corelli, the founder of
the New York Philharmonic. It is literally a link to the past. It is a piece of history that you are holding. I feel like this violin is the New York
Philharmonic, because it has existed as long as the New York Philharmonic has. It’s been amazing to be a part of this Strad’s life.